Freitag, 29. Februar 2008

ach wie schön ist panama...

little mishaps are the spice of life, they are entry points to new discoveries. i learned two things today, one new lesson and the other was a refresher lesson. the new lesson: my german atm card is useless in panama. the old lesson: don't bother planning, things will turn out different anyway in the end. diverging from my usual modus operandi, i had booked a hotel in advance as i knew i'd be arriving late at night for my stopover. i jumped into a taxi at the airport, got downtown and learned the new lesson. and then i spent the next 2 hours cruising around town in a taxi i couldn't pay for, with an empty wallet and unable to get cash anywhere, looking for a hotel that would be willing to give me a cash advance on my credit card. which eventually i did. needless to say, the hotel i stayed at in the end was nowhere near the one i had originally booked. and though i know they will never read this blog, i'd like to take this opportunity to thank diana and ignacio for their help and patience.

in spite of the minor inconvenience, the episode was also an indication of how easy travel is nowadays if you belong to the more fortunate 20 % of humanity - no need for me to sell off a kidney, pawn jewelry or go work in a maquiladora to pay off my debt.

based on what little i've seen of panama so far, it has the feel of a town that has seen a lot of globalised money arriving lately, drawn by low taxes and few questions asked. geography helps, with the canal obviously drawing international trade and the lucrative trade in certain agricultural goods from neighbouring colombia bringing in megabucks to the offshore banks. next to my hotel bed, where one usually finds tourist brochures, was a 600+ page catalogue (!) praising the colon free zone, the world's second biggest special economic zone, producing cheap textiles and electronics, mainly for chinese companies. like other similar towns, panama city is therefore a magnet for all kinds of wheelers and dealers, hustlers and contractors, aspiring movers and shakers from all corners of the world, congregating in the hotel lobby bar, sitting around in polyester suits and cradling beers, hoping to make it big this time around...

Montag, 25. Februar 2008

bailando, bailando...

"ven, bailalo
ay, ven, bailalo
ven, gozalo
ay, ven, gozalo
que la rumba esta buena
y contigo, morena
pa' santo domingo
es que me voy yo"

- angel y khriz

from what limited experiences i've had in latin american countries, it seems that there are two things you can't escape here: the music and dancing. i really don't mind the former, but the latter is something of an anathema to me. i am honestly a very, very bad dancer. bachata, salsa, merengue, rumba, compa... i can neither tell them apart nor, if even i could, i am not able to figure out the rhythm with which i'm supposed to move my clumsy feet. not to mention moving the hips and turns and what-have-you-not.

in the sunny caribbean as much as in freezing patagonia, in ill-lit port-side taverns and in kitschy tourist cafes, in front of bottle stores and in colonial-era parks, i have had the same conversation as in front of a local colmado (sort of kiosk/mini-market) last night:

local young woman: come, i'll show you how to dance the bachata!

me: ummm.... no gracias....

local young woman: mira, its real simple: 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3...

me (sweating blood and tears): umm... well... no, mira, i honestly can't dance...

local young woman: oye, it's 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3... what could be simpler?!

well, the result was, as expected, a complete disaster. even the fact that i had additional encouragement from a somewhat drunk portly elderly lady behind me who was pinching my ass and telling me to "shake it, shake it!" didn't help me find the right rhythm...

Samstag, 23. Februar 2008

mundo latino

lying on the couch on the porch and closing my eyes, the audioscape is so stereotypical that it makes me smile: the wind rustling through the palm trees, the waves crashing on the beach, crickets chirping, the sounds of latin dance music wafting over from the bars and the loud shouting match in spanish between the husband and wife from the house next door...

my mind has not quite yet been able to completely plug into what little spanish i was once able to speak. instead, indonesian tends to come into the way, with my mind forming indo-spanish phrases such as: "si, besok voy pa' santo domingo karena tengo amiga yang kerja alli"

Dienstag, 19. Februar 2008

¡vamos a la playa!

tomorrow morning i shall be heading out to the tropics again, this time to the west rather than the east, first to the caribbean and then to central america, followed by north america. the exact itinerary of my trip is still a bit open, will be playing it by ear a bit. rest assured, however, that this trip has absolutely nothing to do with recent developments in cuba...

in the meantime, if you have a bored moment, check out the video to that song in the subject header of this post on youtube (it's the one by righeira). it just possibly might the the most bizarre anti-war song video ever.

Montag, 18. Februar 2008

knowledge is power

if any of you are wondering whether or not you should go ahead and do a ph.d., my answer is: absolutely! there is probably no other time in your life when you have chance to expand your mental horizons in quite the same way as when as you're writing a ph.d.

i, for example, have learned over the past few weeks that:

- saskatchewan is approximately as big as southern sudan
- ren hoek's accent (from the cartoon show ren & stimpy) was inspired by peter lorre (casablanca, the maltese falcon, 'm' - die stadt sucht einen moerder)
- the seven years' war (1756-1763) was the first european conflict fought on 5 continents
- prenzlauer berg, the part of berlin i live in, has an average population density of 13 176 inhabitants per km2
- both johnny depp and amy winehouse appeared on the bbc series 'the fast show'
- while the eu's next expansion will consist of officially integrating the netherlands antilles islands of aruba, bonaire, st. eustatius and saba into the eu on dec. 15 this year, the caribbean islands of turks & caicos have considered joining canada.
curacao and sint maarten will gain a special status as associated states
- the album 'lust for life' by iggy pop & david bowie was recorded in a small studio close to potsdamer platz, berlin
- the olm (proteus anguinus) uses mostly non-visual sensory systems such as photoreceptors in the skin, chemoreceptors, mechano- and electroreceptors in order to find its way in the dark
- peru is latin america's biggest potato-producing country
- chris cunningham's video for aphex twin's song 'come to daddy' was shot in the same housing development thingie as stanley kubrick's clockwork orange
- the official languages of the netherlands antilles are dutch and papiamentu; the official language of the turks and caicos islands is english
- the 1,59 eur bottle of chilean la cara cabernet sauvignon from the plus market is better quality for money than the 1,79 bottle of montepulciano d'abruzzo from kaiser's
- judge dread was both the first white recording artist to have a reggae hit in jamaica and the artist with the most banned songs in the u.k.
- famed indian actor amitabh bachchan has played in 172 movies to date, winning 18 film awards and 27 nominations. burt bacharach of kansas city (mo), on the other hand, has so far had 70 top 40 hits in the us and 52 top 40 hits in the uk
- while the latin name for the animal known as cicak in indonesian is hemidactylus frenatus, the tokek is classified as gekko gecko
- actor lee marvin's mother descended from the brother of george washington while his father's forefather was the founder of hartford, connecticut

rest assured that i have not merely picked up these gems of information by idly wandering around the internet when i was supposed to be focusing on my ph.d. topic of masculinities and violence in timor leste. all of the above-mentioned facts are absolutely essential to the fundamental argument of my thesis.

Donnerstag, 14. Februar 2008

my life story in a nutshell

the other day on the radio i heard a book review of a collection of autobiographies - all of which are six words long, a brilliant concept that has kept my mind busy and off my thesis ever since. here's a few 6-word autobiographies i came up with:

mumble, grumble... not a morning person
absent-minded, i drift through my life
will be late for own funeral
glad i changed course early on
protestant work ethic? not quite...
chilies, garlic, lime juice, salt, coriander
gigantic carbon footprint - that defines me

Dienstag, 12. Februar 2008

a desperado goes down in flames

"desperado, why don't you come to your senses?
oh, you're a hard one,
and i know you've got your reasons,
but these things that are pleasing you
can hurt you somehow."

-johnny cash, "desperado"

the other night as i was working away on my ph.d. and writing a sentence to the effect of "one shouldn't overgeneralise about violence being the main way in which political differences are settled in timor leste..." when the bbc world service that was running in the background reported that "according to reports just coming in from dili, there has been an armed attack on the residence of president jose ramos horta..." i stopped mid-sentence... so much for that well-meant caveat on my part.

the attacker was none other than the mercurial major alfredo, who as some of you might remember has made his appearance on these pages as well. in what was a dual attack, reinado and his men attempted to kill both the president and the prime minister, but in the end it was alfredo himself who got killed. jrh was shot in the chest and stomach and is, at the time of writing, in intensive care in australia. a further man was killed, though it is unclear whether he was one of the attackers or one of the president's bodyguards.

so the man went down in flames and perhaps it was the only way he could go if he wanted to preserve his almost mythical aura, an aura that was already in the process of losing its shine. did he really think he could pull off a coup? was he "manipulated"? did he just lose the plot? i guess we'll never know.

other questions also remain and from what i hear dili is (surprise, surprise) abuzz with rumours, gossip and conspiracy theories. why was only 'unlucky alf' killed? what about the time discrepancies? why did the attack happen now? how and why were all the attackers (minus alfredo) able to escape? wasn't alfredo's death just a bit too convenient for 'some people'? those wishing to discuss these matters further over a beer or three are more than welcome to contact me anytime...

on a personal note, i tuned in to bbc world service again late last night for the latest update. i was mentally so immersed into the broadcast that i had one of those audio flashbacks that i haven't had for about 10 months: while listening intently to the news broadcast from dili, a woman walking past my window down a cobblestone street in high-heeled winter boots made a steady clack-clack-clack-clack sound with her heels and a part of my mind immediately thought: sustained automatic rifle fire, single-shot mode... i snapped out of it within a fraction of a second, but the unwelcome feeling of having been touched by the ghost of christmas past lingered on for a while longer

Freitag, 8. Februar 2008

a small town in germany

i am back in bonn for the first time in five years, a town that used to be home for a while a while back... i am stunned by how little has changed in 5 years, the only noticeable changes were that the greek resto round the corner is now an indian eatery and that the couple running the korean grocery store have become friendlier.

then as now, bonn is an affluent, orderly, administrative town for affluent, orderly, administrative people. suits and ties, expensive handbags, wealthy old ladies with nip-n-tuck tight faces, small dogs. fenced-off, well-kept front lawns. no alarms and no surprises, please...

at times, especially during the dark and dismal days of november-december, the strict bourgeois orderliness would become oppressive, "bonn jour tristesse" if you excuse the pun.

today however, the town is resplendent. a cloudless sky, a brilliant sun, majestic victorian houses, the first birds are singing and the first trees down by the rhine are in bloom. (never mind the fact that this should actually only be happening in two months time...)