Archive for January, 2008


I glanced at the TV screen a little while ago and thought, for an instant, that I’d seen an unusual word. I realised that if Lebanon and Israel ever merged to become one country, it should be called Lesbian.

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What’s the matter?

I knew there was a reason I went to Manchester yesterday. One of my first ports of call was Waterstone’s. I wasn’t expecting to buy anything, just – out of habit, if nothing else – interested in wasting some time looking at books. What did I see almost as soon as I walked through the door? Iain M Banks’s new novel, Matter.

Not only did I not know that this book existed, I wasn’t even expecting him to put one out until much later this year – based on the pattern of one book every two years he’s set in recent times. Not that I’m complaining, of course; Iain Banks is one of three authors whose back catalogue I own in its entirety (in other words, I quite like his work). This new book is one of his science fiction efforts – which, let’s face it, are better than his literary fiction works. Better still, it’s a Culture novel – and, let’s also face this, tales of the Culture are better than his non-Culture sf novels (although The Algebraist was non-Culture and very good).

The icing on the metaphorical cake was that Waterstone’s were selling Matter for half price – £9.50 (which actually makes it 50.026% price rather than half price).

The other good thing to come of yesterday is that I don’t have to make the arbitrary and tricky (because of its arbitrariness) decision as to what I’m going to read next; Iain Banks has made it for me.

While I was in Waterstone’s I picked up a C J Cherryh book with a similar title to the one I’m reading now. The first sentence of the blurb mentioned a character in the current book who’s evidently moved onwards and upwards. I hastily put the volume back on its shelf. I hate blurbs, the way they tell you half the plot. I do read them, but I try to read them well in advance of reading the novel itself, so that I’ve more or less forgotten what it said.

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India, Day – no, I can stop that now.

The flight from Dubai to here was fine. There was some turbulence in a couple of places, but this was made up for by the sight of the world going by underneath. I had a window seat as usual, and this time was seated right at the front of Economy, so I had lots of space. We flew over Iran, the grey-brown mountains below us scored with what looked like water erosion. Later, we overflew European mountains; at one point I saw mountains in the distance (on the left hand side) I looked at the map and saw we were over Austria, so, naturally, I wondered whether they were the Alps. At six or seven miles up you can only guess at the distance to the horizon. But looking at the Earth from that height is endlessly fascinating.

I sat next to a Mancunian chap who had been to a wedding in South Africa. He runs, or works on, a barge that hosts a club on Manchester’s canals. It’s called Smuggler’s Run.

I received my meals – breakfast and lunch – before anyone else. When lunch came I discovered why: I’d been assigned special Hindu meals. I came from India, so obviously I must be a Hindu. The food was fine, though.

In between frequent bouts of sleepiness (but not much actual sleep) I read Fortress in the Eye of Time – and found it increasingly worth reading.

I got back to Whaley Bridge without any problems. Told my sister and her ex-partner a little about my experiences, handed out presents when the kids came home. I got my laptop out to show them pictures and videos, but they were more interested in playing or watching me play games.

It’s definitely nice to be back.

Alliteratively enough, I’m in Starbucks in Stockport (lapping up a latte. Not literally). On the train, a bunch of men who’d got on at Whaley, got out their guitars and started singing blues and folk songs. I also thought I might get away without paying for a ticket when the inspector came round and ignored me. Unfortunately, and unusually, there were staff at the station checking and selling tickets.

I thought I might go to the cinema, but it’s Saturday so there are lots of people around – especially teenagers. I’ll come back on a weekday; Walk Hard is a definite candidate for viewing. Also thought I might buy some music – and I still might, but I could probably (definitely, even) save some money buying on-line. It’s more satisfying to get something straight into your hands, though, and HMV still has various two for £10 titles.

Now – or soon, at any rate – I have the task of planning for South Korea again. I have to find a job; two of my friends over there have offered help in this respect, but I imagine I’ll be looking on-line again. When I was in Ansan, I joined the ‘Waygooks in Ansan’ Yahoo! group; if there’s something similar for Seoul, it could be very useful.

I’m also thinking of the various things I should take with me. I’ll post a boxful of books. I’ll also buy some new towels (I couldn’t find any decent ones last time). Depending on the logistics of it, I may take or post my guitar (I have two guitars, actually, but ‘my guitar’ means the electric one); if that turns out to be too expensive or complicated I’ll buy one when I’m over there, along with a small amp and an effects pedal or three.

Nearer at hand, another trip to London is possible, as is a visit to a friend in Plymouth. I want to buy up various books and CDs – some (but probably not all – there are a lot of them) of the Wild Cards books; albums I don’t have by Queen, The Police, Rammstein, Nickelback, Godsmack. I bought CDs by the latter three in the latter part of last year and have been quite impressed. I may even buy a computer game.

And when all of this has been achieved, I’ll be happy. Yeah, right.

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Hello, goodbye, Dubai, Dubai

India, Day 46 – Dubai (not in India at all)

Isn’t it ironic? (The second Alanis Morissette reference of the day.) Passing through Dubai Airport on my way to India, I barely had time to glance around as I hurried from a late arrival to a late departure. Going in the opposite direction, I have 18 hours here (which period is now just over half complete). Some sort of cosmic balancing out, there.

Fortuitously enough for me, the electrical sockets are UK-style, so – as long as I can find one near a seat – I can just spend most of the time playing Civilization IV. I’ve made my base the far end of the terminal around gates 36 – 40. It’s away from the shops and cafés of the main concourse and, earlier on, it was very quiet (and I played music as well as Civ IV); now, a number of people are hanging out here, but it’s still a lot better than the busier area.

I’ve finally had a chance to spend my dirhams – on tea and coffee and a pack of Pringles. I’ve just had dinner – on Emirates, if you’ve more than four hours between flights. It’s all very comfortable. The only issue now is whether I decide to try and get some sleep. I’d be happy not to – while there are plenty of people simply lying on the floor, I’d still feel very self-conscious doing so. Maybe I’ll try what I think of as my Seoul Metro sleeping position – which is seated and hunched forward.

There are internet stations available, but I may well wait until I get back to my sister’s before posting this. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a world to conquer.

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An unusual and interesting volume. My Name Is Red is set in the late sixteenth century in Istanbul, and is about art and religion, murder and marriage. The really striking thing about the novel is that the chapters are written from the first person perspective of a number of different characters; some of them are the protagonists and we return to them throughout the book; others are more incidental and only have one chapter of their own (these include Elegant, the murder victim (he takes the first chapter and at that point has already been killed), and images of a tree, a dog, a coin, and the devil).

These multiple narrators (often (or even always) unreliable to some degree) give the book a quirky and baroque texture. The differences in the voices aren’t always too great – the female characters, Shekure and Esther, are the most individual; the various men characters are all fairly similar – and they all address the reader directly, often drawing attention to the fact that they leave out information or lie.

Apart from the whodunnit aspect, the other main parts of the story are the relationship between Black (if the novel has one, he’s the hero) and Shekure, and also, most interestingly, the attitude of the Muslim Ottoman illustrators. Evidently capturing the dying days of Persian-style art – art that is not representative for the sake of representation, but illustrative of manuscripts, and that assumes an ‘Allah’s eye view’ of the world – My Name Is Red shows the tensions between traditional Islamic art and the new ‘Frankish’ or ‘Venetian’ art. The characters are torn between admiration of the skill of this European style, and regarding it as blasphemous (for using human perspective, and for the individuality of its subjects and its creators).

The book’s main flaw is that it’s a little long-winded – the characters dwell on memories, recite lists and retell stories. Also, the multiplicity of viewpoints and the deliberate equivocation and concealment by the characters tend to diffuse the force of the story and confuse the reader. But these aren’t important points – overall, this is a pleasantly  idiosyncratic and very worthwhile read.

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India, Day 46 – Delhi

As I noted yesterday, a taxi to the airport ought to cost 225 rupees (according to Lonely Planet, anyway). This morning, the Indian currency I had left came to 325 rupees in paper money, and 6 rs in coinage. A driver accosted me at the end of Pahar Ganj Main Bazaar and offered to take me for 300; I said OK. I sat in front of his shop while he went off to presumably get his taxi. After a minute or so, I though, Bugger this, and walked over to the taxi stand at the railway station.

The driver who intercepted me there wanted 450 rupees. I started to haggle, and he said something about a new toll. He seemed to accept my offer of 325, laughing when I showed him my remaining cash. He made a point of mentioning the toll, implying that it was incredibly expensive, once we were underway. The taxi went on to an elevated highway – evidently new. The toll point at the other end had a sign displaying the prices for various types of vehicle; I think cars were 7 rupees.

At the entrance to Terminal 2 of Indira Gandhi International Airport, it looked very much like I’d have to queue to even get into the building. There just happened to be a lot of people going into one entrance; I entered elsewhere (a guard looked at my flight details first). The interior here wasn’t terribly impressive – partially under construction and generally a bit aged and grotty; the long ceiling panels were warped.

I found the Emirates counter, then had to backtrack a little and have my backpack scanned and tagged. Then I checked in. I had a bout a litre of water with me, so I hung around drinking that before going through security. There was a bit of a wait here, but the process was reasonably painless – I’d transferred the contents of my pockets to my laptop case. The guard who scanned me told me, ‘It will be better for you if you take off your shoes.’ So I did.

Currently there are about twenty minutes until boarding starts at 10:35 – but I’m sure that won’t start on time. Feeling a little hungry, but I’ll survive.

I’m happy to be heading back to Britain (for however long), but has my trip to India been a success? There’s no Yes or No answer to that – in fact, even Yes and No probably isn’t accurate. While my original plan of three months in the country hasn’t come to pass, a) I’ve been here for a month and a half and that’s not bad, and b) I always had an inkling that I might change my plans partway through – at least, I was always aware that it was a possibility.

The pivotal moment was just after New Year’s. I’d had a really good time with the two American chaps at the New Year’s party – better, really, than I’d expected. Consequently, all the shitty aspects of travelling in India were thrown into (the now legendary) stark relief. I got depressed – too depressed than I ought to have. By the time I got to Delhi I was feeling pretty positive again. The whole sequence of up-down-up was almost bi-polar in its intensity. I think I made about the right decision to come home now; I could have borne a little longer, but three months would have been pushing it.

I’ve visited Delhi, Agra (and Fatehpur Sikri), Lucknow, Varanasi (and Sarnath), Goa (including Margao, Colva and Old Goa), Trivandrum and Mumbai. I probably should have at least gone to Jaipur as well, but I’ve seen a fair old slice of India. I’ve started writing (thank you, Drew). I didn’t do any yoga (my apologies, Savasana) – but I may well look into that in the future. I’ve taken a shit-load of photographs. I’ve kept my blog. I’ve seen one of the world’s most famous buildings (the Taj Mahal) and been on one of its most famous rivers (the Ganges). I’ve learnt more about the world, and, more importantly, about myself (about things I can and can’t tolerate, and how to deal with them … or not, as the case may be).

So, actually, I’m going to spin this as a successful journey. Just not amazing. But then, nothing I do is ever amazing.


Boarding was a slow process. When the queue finally got moving (no section by section announcements here), my hand baggage tag was checked by someone, then a guard looked at my boarding pass and bag tag, then an attendant took the pass and gave me back the stub, then someone else checked the stub and my passport. The plane took off about fifty minutes after it was scheduled to. It was all very Indian.

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De Gaulle’s greeting to you on discovering France in the game Civilization IV.

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‘My World’, Metallica

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India, Day 45 – Mumbai Rajdhani Express, Delhi

I shared the train from Mumbai with a British couple and a young North American guy. We didn’t talk much, to be honest – well, the couple talked to each other – and we all had books to read.

Rajdhani trains – I don’t know if they’re operated by the same people as the majority of India’s trains – are a cut above the other trains I’ve been on. The carriages are decked out in much the same way as usual, but the blue seats are a slightly lighter shade of light blue and everything seems newer and cleaner. The service is a lot better, too; although you don’t get the continual ‘chaiwallers’ and so on, you get snacks and pots of tea in addition to your meals. Also – best of all – they’re included in the ticket price – the only additional money you fork out is a tip at the end of the journey.

Unusually, I felt fine throughout the trip – I didn’t get a headache or feel sick. We arrived at New Delhi Station more than an hour late at 10:15, and straightaway I made my way to the hotel I’d stayed in last time – Lord’s Hotel. Strangely, I was greeted like an old friend – guess they’re happy I came back.

It’s a good job I had a closer look at my flight information – my plane leaves, not at 13:40 as I’d thought, but at 11:20 tomorrow – 13:40 is the arrival time in Dubai. It also looks like the only way to get there is by taxi. Lonely Planet mentions an ‘ex-serviceman’s’ bus service, but the location mentioned in central Delhi is only a drop-off point, so I don’t really know where to find out more information. A taxi, according to LP, should cost 225 rupees … so that means it really costs about 300. Maybe.

When I got into the hotel I started feeling a bit headachey – possibly a delayed reaction from the train, maybe due to the horrible air in the capital (although it’s breezy today, and so not too bad). I took a pill and headed outside. My headache got worse. Having found no sign of anything significant at the aformentioned bus stop, I went to Costa for a big cup of coffee. My headache was really paining me.

By the time my coffee arrived at my table I was starting to feel sick. I quickly shut my laptop down, left my caffe latte almost untouched and hurried up to the toilet – where I regurgitated a small amount of vomit. (Regurgitating vomit? Does that imply I’ve been eating vomit?) A short time later I went back down feeling only slightly better and finished my coffee.

Then it was back to the hotel for a nap. Which is where I am now – although the napping has now finished.

In other news, I’ve been watching CNN and saw that Heath Ledger has died. I spent a moment muttering, ‘What?’ at the TV, as if I thought it might be joking. He was a very decent actor and I was quite looking forward to seeing how he’d do in the forthcoming Batman movie. The speculation seems to be that he overdosed on drugs – if so it’s another example of the complete stupidity of trying to escape problems by resorting to chemicals. As long as people have problems – and access to drugs – it’s always going to happen, though.

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Exchange rate watch

1 GBP = 1.3392 EUR
1 GBP =  1.9508 USD
1 GBP = 76.418 INR (Indian Rupee)
1 GBP = 7.1603 AED (UAE Dirham)

Bonus Random Exchange Rate

1 GBP = 40.965 Gambian Dalasi (GMD)

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

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