Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday: Extract 1

This is the first of seven posts in the Extracts series. Every day, I will post a one-sentence extract from something I have read or heard in the course of that day.

The extracts will be from different sources. I will choose them at random, so they will not necessarily be intelligent, memorable, informative or funny. Even by the consistently puerile standards of this blog, this is an exercise in puerility. In the comments section you can, if you want, post extracts from what you have read/heard today.

Extract 1 is from Book (Fiction):

The municipal stadium was deserted—not a single living dead to be seen.
—Nicolas Dickner, Apocalypse for Beginners

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Work Visa

Tourist visas are fundamentally cooler than work visas. A work visa declares that you are a wage-slave, while a tourist visa says that you are – not to put too fine a point on it – a tourist.

Having said that, descriptions on work visas are generally quite flattering. Mine, for instance, is a UK Tier 2 work visa, which means that I am “a skilled worker who fills a gap in the workforce that cannot be filled by a settled worker.”

But I got a Japan work visa yesterday, and it is so inconceivably cool that it makes gap-filling skilled workers look pedestrian. It says that I am a – wait for it – Specialist in Humanities/International Services. That’s right! A Specialist in Humanities-slash-International frikkin’ Services. And if that were not enough, I am authorised to “engage in service, which requires knowledge pertinent to jurisprudence, economics, sociology or other human science fields or to engage in service which requires specific ways of thought or sensitivity based on the experience with foreign culture.”

What I will in fact be doing in Tokyo is securitising the hell out of everything and helping rich companies get richer. But the visa makes me sound like a paragon of rectitude and goodness, reforming economies and defending human rights and generally spreading light and joy. It almost makes me want to live up to that ideal, but somehow I suspect I may not have it in me.

The least I could do is to dedicate my blog, such as it is, to the service of mankind. And here I am, writing a post where I essentially do nothing else but gloat about a visa.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Excess Baggage

I am moving to Tokyo for six months, and the law firm arranged for some of my belongings to be shipped in a big metal trunk. The trunk was shipped yesterday while I leave two weeks later.

Packing the trunk was an interesting exercise – I had to sort my stuff into Things I Need in the Next Two Weeks, and Things I Don’t Need in the Next Two Weeks.

So what went in the trunk?

  • Books
  • Things I’ll need only in Japan (like a plug adapter)
  • Things I use infrequently, but which are important nonetheless (like my sleeping bag)
  • Things for seasonal use (like my sandals – not my footwear of choice in London in February)
  • Some things which (I realised) I don’t really need at all.
I was pleased to see that there wasn’t too much of that last category. This is not because I am exceptionally austere; I just don’t like superfluity.

I did not have a lot of luggage when I moved from Calcutta to London, and in the six months I have spent here, my worldly possessions have not increased by much – I’ve bought a t-shirt, a casserole, a pair of walking boots, an overcoat, a backpack and several books. And a plant, which I am leaving behind.

The trunk they sent was huge. I had guessed it would be, when HR very apologetically told us that it will hold ‘only about 82 kilos’ (everything I own taken together weighs about half that). But when it arrived, it surpassed all my expectations. I could ship myself in that trunk, if I wanted. I would even have room for a book to read on the way.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Istanbul Top 10 (with 9 missing entries)

Over a month has elapsed since my Istanbul trip, and much water has flown under the Galata Bridge. But I thought the trip called for more than one throwaway post. And perhaps the delay is not such a big deal after all: Istanbul has never been a city in a hurry.

The plan was to do an Istanbul Top 10 post. Over the incredible period of one entire month, I made a list, added and deleted bits, reordered it, wrote and rewrote the entries, to the point where I was sick of looking at it. This morning, I decided to take drastic steps. I struck out all the bits I didn’t like, an exercise which left me with an Istanbul Top 10 with 9 missing entries. This, at least, can see the light of day.

2. The Bosphorus

If you stroll aimlessly around Istanbul, you gravitate involuntarily towards the Bosphorus or the Golden Horn – just as in south Bombay your wanderings lead you inevitably towards Marine Drive. As Lonely Planet puts it, “Divan Yolu and İstiklal Caddesi are always awash with people, but neither is the major thoroughfare in İstanbul. That honour goes to the mighty Bosphorus Strait.”

We spent many hours here – I suspect you could spend a lifetime and still not tire of it. We watched the anglers dangling their lines from the Galata bridge, ate grilled fish sandwiches on the waterfront, marvelled at Constantine’s sea walls and at the elegance of the yalıs – the old wooden mansions on the water’s edge. At Beşiktaş, we spotted jellyfish and bioluminescent life forms in the water (Phosphorus in the Bosphorus, I called it, and the Quaker winced).

But my most memorable Bosphorus experience was on the ferry ride which goes all the way up the strait – from the Sea of Marmara in the south to the Black Sea in the north, zigzagging between the European and Asian shores. There are short stretches where no houses, boats or other modern constructions meet the eye – all you see are waves and hills and seagulls and fog, and the view cannot be all that different from that which greeted Byzas and his men when they arrived in 667 B.C. to found a tiny trading colony called Byzantium. Or, if you believe in the old stories, from what Jason and the Argonauts saw on their quest for the Golden Fleece.