Posts Tagged ‘random nonsense’

Searching for Context… through facial hair…

A ubiquity throughout most of India, The Mustache is a point of pride for many. While taking a lot of these pictures, I’d ask the gentlemen specifically if I could have a picture of their mustache, and the answer was always the same:  “Of course! Give me a moment…” at which point the man would give a little spit-and-twist, or maybe just a quick pat-down to make sure no stray whiskers would sully his photograph. I myself resolved to grow one, and stopped shaving my upper lip even before leaving Sri Lanka.  In Kolkata, a month or so later, after giving me a shave, a barber asked if I would like it dyed. I took this as a sign.  I chopped the silly thing off in Sikkim, where mustaches are apparently out of style anyway…

 

Pondi

Pondicherry — brothers in arms. we drank brandy & waters with these guys in a park. it was a Sunday. good times.

Pondy

Pondicherry — seriously. don’t touch the SL.

Pondy

if there is any justice in the world, this man is paid extra for maintaining such an authoritarian upper lip

Hampi

Hampi — a marvelous couple

Vizak, I think...

Somewhere in Orissa — This guy was part of a three-man-band who played from the back of a very well-decorated pick-up truck. it was crowded.

the other half of the truck. happy fellows…

on a random train ride into West Bengal…

Varanasi– this fellow made very good beetroot cutlets. yum.

also in Varanasi, about 20m from the burning ghats. these guys were on vacation… at the burning ghats. go figure.

Agra — these guys have the esteemed post of guarding the impossibly polluted River Yamuna, which borders the Taj Mahal. this might explain why the fellow on the right is aiming his rifle at his own torso…

Haridwar — off the ghats of the Ganga, for thirty rupees, one of these mustachioed barbers will shave your head, showing your devotion

Haridwar — on the ghats, just before the sunset Puja. I liked this guy. his son was also very happy to chat with me about fire and bindis and Vishnu and all types of other Hindu stuff

Rishikesh — not technically a mustache but he gets an Honorable Mention anyway for being so awesome

Neil Island — this man makes an excellent biryani. this picture was taken about four days before Adam Yauch passed away

Delhi — where most street vendors are better dressed and styled than your average US senator. this man is making chole bhature. it was very good.

Delhi — another fine street vendor, near the Gateway to India

Darjeeling — a diminutive hotelier and yours truly. immediately before this photo was taken, I made the guy a huge whiskey & soda, of “sipping strength”, and he just straight chugged the whole thing… which is almost as common a sight as a mustache here

High Scores — The Best of the Best

Radnahagar, Havelock Island — Friendliest ‘Stache Award… this guy was AWESOME. he was the only nice fellow working at this guesthouse (if you can even call it that – my hut is in the background ), and we’d sit around and drink rum and shoot at cans balanced on fenceposts. he never wore a shirt was eternally smiling.

don’t even act like you wouldn’t buy cookies from this man

Kolkata — this guy wins my Well Polished Dali Award.  he ran one of the rat-infested hotels that line Sudder Street, but he himself was immaculate

Varanasi —  Best Mustache to Personality Award. a fine example of mustache wizardry. this man was quite possibly insane, or maybe just had one too many bhang lassis…

Delhi — this man comes in first – barely – for Best Raj. he was the doorman at a Chinese-owned pub in Defense Colony, a rich neighborhood in South Delhi filled with expats and ambassadors and other upper-class Indians

side shot. he was proud, really proud… and that’s why he’s such a winner

Port Blair, South Andaman — Best Raj, Second Place. it was early and I had just spent 18 hours on planes and buses and I literally ran after this man on his bicycle to ask for a picture

Delhi — Best Henna. This man sells chai on a patch of sidewalk just south of New Delhi Railway Station. he was stern and bent and moody, but his answer to “may I please take a picture of your mustache?” was the same as everyone else’s:  “yes, of course.”

Beach Five, Havelock Island — Best Facial Hair to Ear Hair Ratio Award. he was also a real sweetheart; he’d let us borrow his bong all the time, provided we brought it back clean and full. I learned his name no less than six different times and still can’t remember it

Elephant Beach, Havelock — Honorable Mention, “Toronto to Tel Aviv” ‘Stache Award. Daniel is one of the coolest sumbitches I ever met. we went spearfishing together that day. as you can see, he’s pretty damn good at that. the Trevally he’s holding was about seven kilos, and the groupers and mackerel hanging from it’s snout were quite tasty as well.

So there you have it… a good use of bandwidth, no?

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I flew in to Taipei around 7:30 and hit the cheapest hostel in town, a surprisingly nice place on the east end of the city called The Meeting Place. The first night lent itself to finding food and taking in the atmosphere, similar to China at first glance but drastically different as soon as you interact with humans here. The first major clue was just outside the airport, after buying a bus ticket into the city. I walked out expecting a mob of people to climb over each other at the first sign of the bus, but instead found a perfect, polite queue to the sign indicating the stop for the #1813 to Taipei Main Station. I was flabbergasted. I kept half-expecting a riot to break out for seats at the arrival of the bus, and I am not lying when I say I was preparing for war at the sight of the bus, shouldering the pack, getting ready to spread the elbows and start pushing like BJ Raji, but it never happened — we just boarded, neatly, in order, and after the seats were full, the next person in line simply stopped, and the crowd behind us began waiting patiently for the next bus.

Now, I’m sure this may not seem very interesting or unique to most people, but to anyone who’s been to China before… well, that shit is fucking incredible. It looks like I’m stereotyping here (and I am), but that would simply never happen in a queue for a bus in China — there would be yelling and climbing and crawling and mob rule and 40 people refusing to leave the aisle after the bus was full, and really, for good reason, or at least justifiable reason. A few days after, I met a guy who’s been living in China for two years, and after mentioning this observation, he smiled with his eyes wide and explained to me that his pictures in Taiwan had almost exclusively been of people standing in line. "I just can’t get over it", he said. "I really can’t believe it… it’s just mind blowing. Totally different attitude." Even the subway queues are more civilized than the ones in Korea, and that’s saying something, as Koreans are really very courteous people. This is a base observation, but it was the starting point…

Taiwan is not China. It never has been. I was expecting this to be less transparent, somehow, but this place is 60+ years ahead of China in a lot of ways… writing this, my thoughts drift back to a bookstore in Beijing back in 2008, when I picked up a Lonely Planet China. There was an odd crease in the binding, and when I turned to it, I found that the section on Taiwan had been ripped out. I picked up another. Same thing, across the whole row of books… they must really not like the LP’s description of Taiwan. Asking students about it later, they were all pretty much in agreement: "Taiwan is China’s biggest island", I remember one saying. "Umm… that’s… not true at all…", I thought. This is really on the minor side of conditioning there, though — I didn’t find a single person my own age in Beijing who knew about what happened in Tienanmen in ’88, and I met quite a few older people who insisted to me that China dropped the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. That’s simply what they were taught.

Of course, on the surface, you’d almost think the progress was the other way around. I remember reading a few years ago that something like 60% of the construction equipment on earth is in China, with over half of that in Shanghai… and after being there, it’s a pretty believable figure. There is simply very little there that’s over ten years old… here, you can feel the boom has already passed, that the wave broke long ago and rolled back. Besides the Taipei 101, there are only two other buildings over 50 stories in the entire country, both of them built in the mid-90’s, though this may be more to do with the frequent earthquakes (I have been woken up by two since I got here, and there are tremors almost daily). Around Taipei, Kaohsiung and Taichung (the three biggest cities), everything smells like old concrete and rust, which is oddly comforting to me. Besides the occasional mall or commercial building, it’s rare to see new construction. In this sense, the whole place seems closer to Oakland than it does to Kunming…

clubbing: an exercise in alcohol, hormones, and lower mathematics

Night two. A hosteler has invited me to a club with another Swedish guy, says it will be a good time. We head out around 10:30 and subway it to Taipei City Hall, and I get my first view of the 101, dreary and gloomy behind the rain and fog. The club is just a few blocks from it, a basement joint called Babe 18. The cover is $500 NT (about $17) and the club itself is an all-you-can-drink venue — apparently a common thing around here. We grab a drink and sort of meander around… the place is small and just starting to fill up, and the vibe is pretty mellow. We start chatting with random folks around the bar, all very friendly, and besides the three of us, there are maybe only two or three other westerners in the joint.

I’ve honestly never really been clubbing before. I mean, I’ve gone to plenty of places that charge a cover and serve drinks and have a dance floor, and that’s usually great, but when I think’clubbing’, I think of a slightly different scene, a bit more dress-up perhaps, people wanting to be seen, but more than that, a perception of exclusivity, nowhere to sit, a volume level and spacial allotment akin to the engine room of a merchant marine vessel, lines and cordons and shit like that. This place is on the edge of that perception, and I find myself in an anxious comfort of the element for a few minutes…

As it gets later and the place fills up, the lens shifts a bit, perhaps the worse for wear, particularly as the verb "dancing" seems to be gradually become interpreted more and more basely and urgently, denigrating into "hump everything female at random". You know how occasionally, you’ll be on the dance floor, and you’ll spot a group of women, and they’re just dancing with each other, and they’re not just sort of ignoring the guys, but totally ignoring every guy in the joint? I suppose I’ve always interpreted this as transparent code for "Hey look guys, we’re just here to have a good time and cut loose, please don’t fuck this up by humping our legs at random."

Well, these groups are disappearing at an amazing rate as the men are getting drunker and more aggressive, and suddenly there are perhaps four men to every woman, and sure, not all of them are acting like total dicks, but every time I think I see something bad, it’s followed by something much worse. Guys are literally pulling each other off of the women they seem to be hell-bent on dancing with, even pointing fingers, and generally acting less and less like dancing partners and more and more like horny sociopaths. Maybe I’m being dramatic here, maybe I just don’t get it, maybe I’m jaded… but from where I was standing, I couldn’t help but think most of these guys fit into at least the seventh circle, some all the way to the ninth.

I watch and chat with other random people, not particularly enthused but in the melee I’m witnessing but pretty fascinated by it, almost like I’m watching a PBS documentary or something. At some point the Swede walks up with a puzzled look on his face and says "What? You don’t like dancing? You should talk to some girls…" as if these two things are somehow related to one another, when in fact they seem more and more to be mutually exclusive. "Yeah, I’ll do that…"

Around 3am or so, I decide the scene just isn’t really for me, finish my drink and walk out, trying to dissect it a bit more as I do so. A lot of these guys are, in the most true sense of the word, wasted , almost as if they’re trying to drink as much as possible to justify the cover price, something not unfamiliar to me but that seems different, much funnier somehow, in the context of a meat-market. I notice a sign on the wall on my way out that says something along the lines of ‘people who vomit inside club will have to pay $200 NT clean-up fee’, which instantly strikes me as a small price to pay. It must happen a lot.

I see the guys the next morning, drinking my coffee at the hostel. After berating me for leaving early, they tell me their story of the rest of the night, a real head-shaker, about how they left the club with the girls they were dancing with "but they wouldn’t take us home". Imagine that, dancing with a person doesn’t guarantee you sex with them! What a world… "Yeah, I was trying really hard, talking with her outside the club," the Swede says, and I can’t help noticing how "trying really hard to convince her to sleep with me" is neatly packaged the next morning as simply "trying really hard". I chew on my toast and smile, wondering if there’s ever been a study done showing how MTV has effectively set back gender relations by 250 years or so.

not my scene not my problem

Two nights later, I’m walking to a different club, almost begrudgingly, with a fresh crowd of new faces. We had gone for dinner earlier, and cause for celebration has translated into an urge for dancing. Most of them live in Taipei and almost all are Taiwanese born. She senses my disdain. "It’s… not really my speed", I explain. "Maybe I’ll come for a quick drink…"

This joint is called Carnegies and it’s supposedly famous, although it’s hard to see why. There isn’t really a dancefloor at all, but the place is big, spread out, with lots of tables, and a huge bar with enormous brass poles installed across the length of it. It is horrendously expensive, by any standard, and the girls are still 20-somethings, but the median age of the men has increased quite a bit — most of the guys are in their 40s. For the size, it is much too well-lit. We chat for a while, about meat-markets, and Egypt, and traveling, and the variance in attitude towards beer by the Germans and the Belgians, a topic I am almost embarrassingly conversant on. Then we talk some more. I wind up having a fantastic time, actually.

I wake up around noon, feeling a tad groggy but overall pretty solid – indeed, overpriced beer is a good way to keep the poor from drinking too much. I wash my face, run a brush over my teeth with a paste that seems to have been made with green tea and maybe anise. I walk back to be guestroom, or what seems to be a guestroom, I can’t really tell… she’s still asleep, curled up in the comforter, eyes closed and stoic behind waves of black hair… and I cannot possibly describe how beautiful she is. Absolutely gorgeous, just incredible, natural, no make-up or glitter, no haze, no false pretense or atmospheric tinge to discolor or distort the image, just her, still fully dressed, like me, on a dinky pull-out bed with a comforter sized and styled for a child, peaceful and indifferent… my heart pounds faster, short flashes that only exist in an impossible future running through my synapses. I can feel my brow furrowing, not by my own accord, and then the synapses relapse, that sugary substance that normally flows quickly changing to caustic sap… yes, the fact is sharply, horribly clear, and the fact is that I’m never going to see her again, no matter how much we both want to, that the future is as linear as the past, and the reality of the whole thing crashes into the beauty in front of me and shatters on the floor of my gums, leaving a dark stain that tastes like rust… I look away with lazy eyes. My hands are clenching into fists and I don’t know why, like picking a scab until it bleeds and then wondering to yourself how you could ever think that might have helped. I feel a slight peace but something else is trying to break in, something irrational and vague and eager.

She kisses me goodbye and tells me she doesn’t want to see me go and I tell her I feel the same way and we’re both completely telling the truth and it seems to be intended to make each other feel better but it’s clearly doing just the opposite. I hold her tightly, one last time, then walk away, feeling her stare… my eyes are closed and I’m breathing deeply, my steps slow and deliberate and almost cautious. I make the first turn and realize that I have absolutely no idea where I am and immediately decide that it doesn’t matter in the slightest. I notice that my steps are getting faster and faster, almost like I’m being chased by some phantom or something…

Somewhere along the line, I seem to have lost my Eligible Man-About-Town badge and was instead given a Hopeless Romantic purple-heart. Sometimes life holds you close and whispers into your ear that you’re special. Other times it just pukes in your lap. You’d think it’d be easier to laugh at the former and cry at the latter, but sometimes it’s exactly the opposite…