Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hokkaido

The Himalayan town of Leh sits at an elevation of 3,500 metres above sea level. The extreme conditions and the rarefied air can pose a health risk, so all over Leh there are warnings and advisories. We saw one such warning sign at the 257 Army Transit Camp, where we stayed when we went trekking in Ladakh last year.

“Do not try to be Gama in the place of lama,” by unspoken agreement, instantly became our motto for the trek.

Of course, we had no clue what Gama means. We wondered if it was a Ladakhi word for blasé, or a person who drinks very little water, or a foolhardy person, or just a plain idiot. Internet searches produced tantalising leads but no real answers. And throughout the trek, we repeated the phrase at every opportunity and it cracked us up every time. (The mystery was solved months later, when someone read Kaushik’s blog post and emailed him with the answer.)

A serendipitous slogan like that can make a trip even more fun. It is almost impossible to pin down what makes a good trip-slogan, but there are some general principles. The trip-slogan has to be brief. It must of course be about the journey or the destination. You have to encounter or come up with it during, or while planning the trip. Rhyme and humour work well, as does a certain quality of mystical inscrutability. Note, however, that the trip-slogan is not to be confused with the trip-quote. The trip-quote can be equally memorable, but it is more common; instances include Tewary’s azad panchhi quote, and Saha’s famous musings (in Puruliya) on Man’s Purpose on Earth. The trip-slogan is rarer, so not every trip will have one, but that is part of the appeal.

A friend and I are planning a trip to Hokkaido in August. We haven’t yet booked tickets, and it is not even certain whether the plan will eventually work out, but I emailed a Japanese colleague to ask about Hokkaido, and he wrote:

You should remember the famous key word "Hokkaido ha Dekkaido" which means Hokkaido has very big size.
If Hokkaido ha Dekkaido is not a trip-slogan, I don’t know what is.

Monday, June 13, 2011

11 Nights

While 11 does not quite have the zing of 1001, it is at least of the form 10n+1.

Saha once did a (discontinued) series called The Craziest Places I Have Slept In. Some day, I will do a similar series of posts myself. But meanwhile:

None of the places where I spent the last 11 nights were particularly crazy, but each is interesting in its own way.

1.An economy-class seat on a Boeing 767-300 (Tokyo-Bangkok and 9 days later, Bangkok-Tokyo): 2 nights
2.Friend’s room (Singapore): 1 night
3.Friend’s couch (Singapore): 1 night
4.Friend’s flat, futon on window-ledge (Hong Kong): 3 nights
5.New Road Guest House (Bangkok): 1 night
6.The Peninsula (Bangkok): 2 nights
7.My flat (Tokyo): 1 night

[1] was not cool. I sleep soundly on all moving vehicles, except airplanes. On my flight back to Tokyo, I got an inkling why. We ran into some turbulence over the East China Sea, and oddly enough, I slept well while it lasted. Planes are too smooth; to really sleep well I need the sensation of motion.

[2] and [3] are actually in the same flat. My friend was away for a day, so I commandeered his room. Then he came back and I was relegated to the couch.

Even aside from the innate coolness of a futon on a window-ledge, [4] was incredibly nice. The flat is on the 22nd floor. When I woke up, I could see skyscrapers and mountains. Or, if I was facing the other way, a slightly messy living room.

[5] and [6] are an interesting contrast. Our firm had an event in Bangkok, and they booked [6] for 2 nights. I wanted to spend an extra day in the city, so I made my own arrangements. [5] and [6] are only a few hundred metres apart, but the difference in room rates is many thousand baht. New Road Guest House’s page on hostelworld says:

We have listened to our customers and are beginning an integrated pest management program. Bed bugs be gone!

At the Peninsula, bed bugs are not an issue.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Temple Street

Long-time readers of this blog may recall a post about street chess at Gariahat. Now the median strip of a busy thoroughfare may be an interesting place to play chess, even a very good place, but according to Time magazine, it is not the best place. For that, you must go to Temple Street, Hong Kong.

The author of the piece did a singularly good job of conjuring up the sleaziness and disrepute of Temple Street:

Toward dusk, stall holders lay out their counterfeit wares, fortune-tellers set up their tables, and—in the square outside the street's eponymous temple—the xiangqi players unfold their boards and take on all comers.

Who could fail to be moved by that? So, when I visited Hong Kong nearly seven years after reading the piece, Temple Street was high on my list of places to see.

And it was a fascinating place indeed. The Time correspondent did not exaggerate the allure of Temple Street (OK maybe just a bit, but a little exoticism never did any harm). It is the kind of place that makes you cast sharp backward glances and check that your wallet is still there.

But I will say one thing about the honest merchants of Temple Street: whatever minor shortcomings they may have in other respects, no one can accuse them of beating around the bush.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Friendship

“I must say, you have the coolest friends ever!”

“Really? I actually think your friends are cooler.”

“Wait, I have an idea.”

I saw this sign on Hollywood Road in Hong Kong. The dialogue, of course, is fictitious.