Dienstag, 25. Dezember 2007

travels with my niece

since my sister is spending her vacations in india, i, together with my parents, have been tasked with looking after my niece. she's a hairy lesbian from sweden and is currently going through a phase of teenage rebellion. walking around town with her inevitably draws attention from people, especially women. they look at my niece and then at me, with a warm and fuzzy glow in their eyes. complete strangers stop to talk to us, asking all sorts of questions and giving unasked for tips as to what i should feed her, whether she's a half-breed, why i have her on the leash, etc. (to avoid any undue confusion i should perhaps add here for those of you who do not know it already that my niece feliz is a fuzzy little dog who's way too cute for her own good).

some people claim that people over here are kinder to dogs than to children. my experiences with feliz tend to support that claim. a case in point was when i went hiking with her and my sister in the alps a few months back. we had forgotten to take a waterbowl for feliz along and stopped at the souvenir store of a bavarian monastery to buy a bowl. the saleslady, an antediluvian crank, was shouting in a gravelly voice at the children not to touch anything, to keep their dirty fingers away, to shut up, and so on. when it was my turn, she barked a "so what do you want?" in my general direction. i said that i was looking for a water bowl for my dog, her scowl became a smile, her eyes lit up and her voice became soft and sweet as she started asking me about my dog and waxing lyrical about her own dogs. in between, she'd revert back to her gruff command voice to curse any and all children that dared enter the shop. she even offered to give me a bowl for free if she could find a suitable plastic one, but unfortunately they were out of stock.

in the end i settled then for a kitschy cup with an alpine motive even though the iconoclast in me was egging me on to buy the dog a water bowl with a picture of the pope on it...

Freitag, 21. Dezember 2007

end of an era in timor

it was with a heavy heart that i heard the sad news from timor leste today: aaj's (pronounced "double-a-jay's"), dili's premier establishment for the desperate, destitute and very drunk; the place where warm beer met crap karaoke; where poorly made-up transvestites mingled with gay cops on the pull; where underage sex workers and overage foreign contractors swayed awkwardly to what passed for music; the place that put men back into mendicant; the cape of no hope; the beacon of dim neon light in the dark tropical night has closed its doors forever. or at least for the time being.

alle jahre wieder

wham's "last christmas" on the radio, overcrowded shops, frosted windows, people with santa hats. its that time of year again.

being in munich as per usual, i have a chance to see what the rich and beautiful of this world are up to in terms of christmas shopping. there's a cartier watch on sale for a mere 19100 euros, but to be honest its so ugly that they'd have to pay me 19100 euros to wear it. there's toasters for 900 euros which will make your toast taste 45 times better than the toast from a 20 euro toaster. but perhaps i'll just settle for the exclusive wine bottle opener for a mere 179 euros, cheapskate that i am.

i wish you all a peaceful holiday season, be it idul adha, hannukah or christmas!

Montag, 17. Dezember 2007

shades of grey

back in europe again.

a pale grey light is flowing in through my window. outside, the grey dickensian rows of houses tower over the dark grey cobblestone street, lined with grey, skeletal trees on the branches of which the odd grey birds are huddling. above it all, a leaden grey sky hangs low over the city. its inhabitants seem to want to blend into the greyness, wearing grey overcoats and sporting ashen faces.

the cafe is an oasis of light and warmth, the glass of shiraz a welcome spot of colour.

Montag, 10. Dezember 2007

its always fun to stay at the...

i'm supposed to give a talk at the university here in singapore tomorrow and they've booked me for the night in the... YMCA!!! predicatbly, that had me chuckling to myself all morning.

but in spite of what the village people might have you think, its not filled with buff tom-of-finlandesque guys in flamboyant uniforms. so far no handlebar moustasches, no leather vests and the only one sporting tasteless retro shades is (unsurprisingly) me. instead, the clientele consists mostly of middle-aged american women and pious-looking korean spinsters. so i guess they don't insist on the Y and the M when admitting guests anymore. mind you, with me there, the C doesnt seem to be much of a criteria either.

singapore is as per usual - the "air-conditioned republic" (both literally and figuratively) which is hooked on shopping. so now, in between the chinese autumn festival/deepavali/hari raya shopping extravaganza of the other month and the year end sale and chinese new year's shopping festival, we have the christmas shopping wonderland thing going on, with loads of styrofoam snow and plastic christmas trees.

there are two things i severely dislike about christmas, and thats the shopping and the schmalzy christmas songs. unfortunately they tend to go hand in hand...

Freitag, 7. Dezember 2007

doomed megalopolis

jakarta. its an acquired taste. its ugly. its crowded, noisy, filthy. rats and rubbish, rickety buses and raucous vendors. the stuffy humid air is noxious. the very rich flaunt their money openly while dozens of children die in the slums of perfectly preventable diseases such as diarrhea. there's corruption on a massive scale. sleaze. vice. calling the traffic system dysfunctional would be making a compliment. the city is flooded annually, spreading the waste and sludge that's deposited in the city's canals across town. there's earthquakes. bombs. riots. its in your face, nothing subtle about it.

...and i have grown to love the town, its spice, its edge, its cast of bizarre characters. though having to spend three and a half hours in traffic this morning to travel 25 km was a bit excessive...

Montag, 3. Dezember 2007

heal the world

i'm taking a break from hanging around with the timorese bad boys to cover the climate conference thing here in bali. with approximately 10 000 people attending, its probably the biggest and most hyped environmental happening since the rio summit in 1992.

so why has everybody and their dog (incl. myself) rocked up in bali? good question. what this meeting actually is is the 13th annual revision meeting of the kyoto protocol. anyone who can remember the previous 12 gets a beer from me. and like the previous 12, this one is in fact a technical meeting for technocrats who will try to work out the technical details for the framework of how to proceed with the negotiations for the next phase of international climate negotiations. in other words, dry procedural stuff in the best un tradition, hardly the kind to raise the interest of anyone except the most hardcore international politics junkies and bureaucrats.

so that brings me back to the question: are all 10 000 of us really that keen on the technical details of the negotiation framework? or is it because we couldnt resist the offer of a free ticket to bali, a chance to feel good about healing the world one workshop at a time and the chance of a photo-op with al gore?