Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Now he's the real shah!

What's the funniest thing you've ever come across in blogsphere?

If this was a tag, I'd immediately say, "Weird Hair Anil's weird translation of Bulla Shah's song!"

Weird Hair Anil is the guy through which I met the Virdi fella. And so he has a special place in my heart (Anil, not Virdi). And behind all the geekiness that goes on at his blog, lurks a very fun, weird-wig-sporting, Hindi-speaking, talented Mallu guy.

Here's the story - about a year ago, Virdi posted the lyrics of the Bulla song on his blog, which incidentally all of us were in love with but we had no freakin' clue what it meant! And Weird Hair Anil made a brilliant attempt to translate it. People who have been around here would remember it, but it was a real pity that the masterpiece was confined to the comment space. So I have decided to bring it out once again, and put it under its well-deserved spotlight.

So here it is, for all new bewdas, for the first time at Sayeshaz, some very good 'imported wine'.

Presenting, ladies and gentlemen, the translation that you should read when you don't have time to go to the gym and do crunches.

And oh, please note how polite I used to be with Virdi last year! ;)

Sayesha said...
Hey Virdi,

I love the song!

Would really really appreciate an English translation!

11:16 PM, May 20, 2005

Anil said...
You ass (why do you force me to start every comment with 'you ass').. how can we understand all that punjabi? english translation please!

and don't give me any gaalis :-)
9:03 AM, May 21, 2005

Anil said...

Wait, let me try to translate:

Bulla ki jaana main kaun, Bulla ki jaana main kaun, Bulla ki jaana main kaun, Bulla ki jaana main kaun.
Tell me who I am (4).

Na main moman vich maseetan, Na main vich kufar dian reetan, Na main pakan vich paleetan.
I am not my mother's son, I am not digging my own grave, I am not boring you.

Na main andar bed kitaban, Na main rehnda phaang sharaban, Na main rehnda mast kharaban.
I don't get anyone into my bed, I don't drink sharaab, I don't know how to party.

Na main shadi na ghamnaki, Na main vich paleetan pakeen, Na main aaabi na main khaki.
No one wants to do shaadi with me, No one will cook for me, and no one likes my khakhi underpants.

Na main aatish na main paun, Bulla ki jana main kaun, Bulla ki jana main kaun, Bulla ki jana main kaun, Bulla ki jana main kaun.
I have no 'drive'. Tell me who I am (3).

Na main arabi na lahori, Na main hindi shehar Nagaori, Na hindu na turk pashauri.
I am not from Arabia or Lahore, nor am I from a hindi town, not even hindu or a bloody turk.

Na main bhet mazhab de paya, Na main aadam hawwa jaya, Na koi apna naam dharaya.
I gave religion but received none, all I got was hot air, and no can can still tell me my name.

Avval aakhar aap nu jana, Na koi dooja hor pacchana, Mai ton na koi hor syana.
You think you are great, that no one else is as good, but I am also a 'shaana' (smartass).

Bulle shah kharha hai kaun, Bulla ki jaana main kaun, Bulla ki jaana main kaun, Bulla ki jaana main kaun, Bulla ki jaana main kaun
What does the Shah of Bulle eat? Tell me who am I (3).

Na main moosa na pharoah, Na main jagan na vich saun, Na main aatish na main paun, Na main rahnda vich Nadaun, Na main baitthan na vich bhaun, Bulle shah kharha hai kaun
I am not a moose or a pharoah, I cannot wake or sleep, I have no 'drive', I cannot stay or leave, I cannot sit or stand because I want to know who I am! Tell me who I am (3) Oooooo.. Tell me who I am.


My favourite part? "Tell me who I am Oooooo"! :D

Monday, February 27, 2006

Dumb charades on a Friday night

On the way back from work today, I bumped into Friday-night-no-life-guy. Someone I hadn't seen in a very long time.

Someone I had never spoken to.

And as usual, we completely ignored each other and walked off.

So here's the history of Friday-night-no-life-guy and Friday-night-no-life-girl.

My partying on Friday nights promptly got over as soon as my good friend Sinnerman the party animal left the country last year. My part-time Master's course made it even more difficult for me to go out as after three consecutive days of work+night classes from Tuesday to Thursday, I'd be in no state to go anywhere on Friday nights.

So, instead of going to clubs, I started going to the gym on Friday nights. I figured since I was so exhausted anyway, I might as well royally finish off all the bacha-kucha energy before the weekend begins afresh.

So every Friday night, I used to go work out at my gym. I liked it. The whole world would be partying and I'd have the gym all to myself. I used to get the keys from the security guard and open the gym myself, turn on the aircon, inspect the equipment as if I owned the place. I could use any exercise equipment I wanted, I could watch anything I wanted on the TV, I could even play my hindi songs on the CD-player as I worked out, I could practise a bit of kickboxing (which I definitely can't when others are around). Basically, the gym was my kheti, my own ilaaka.

But it was not meant to last.

A few Fridays ago, as I extended my hand to get the gym keys from the security guy, he said, "No need. Someone's already there."

In my head rang the word "What??" followed by "What the..??!!"

So I grumpily made my way upstairs and stepped in to be greeted by the sight of an Indian guy who had fallen at my feet. Okay fine, he hadn't fallen at my feet, he was doing sit-ups. He paused his sit-ups to sit up just as I entered, and was obviously as surprised as I was, to see another soul in the gym on a Friday night.

And that's how started the non-verbal communication between us, which mostly consisted of giving each other attitude. I was surprised at myself that I was giving him attitude. Usually I greet all gym-goers with a smile. But I wouldn't even look at him. He also made sure he ignored me completely.

For two months, he was always there on Friday nights. No matter whether I went in at 7 or 8 or 9 or even 10 pm! He'd be there! And no, he wasn't stalking me. If anything, it appeared to be the other way round, that I was the stalker. I'd enter the gym and he'd give me the "So you're here again!" look. And I'd give him the "And so are you!" look. And it'd be like a fight for territory.

And each time I'd enter the gym, in my head I'd hear him say, "So back here on a Friday night, huh? No life, huh?"

I hope in his head he heard me say, "Yeah, I have no life. Have you? Oh wait, you don't. Isn't that why you're here at the gym?"

I nicknamed him the 'Friday-night-no-life-guy'. I'm more than sure he had a similar nickname for me.

So it was one of those Fridays again, when I walked in and caught him looking at himself in the mirror. I tried not to laugh, but you know how incredibly funny it is when guys are checking out their own bodies in the gym mirror.

So I bowed my head very very low to suppress my smile and started the treadmill. He was embarrassed. I SO knew it. For a few moments, he did not know what to do next. Then he started fiddling with the radio and switching stations.

And as he put me through the torture of listening to English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil stations in a loop, each for about 5 seconds or so, I gritted my teeth and remained calm.

Suddenly my ears perked up. Hey, wait a minute! Was that a piece of Bollywood kinda music that just flashed by? (Some stations do play Hindi songs for an hour each day.) I made the mistake of looking up towards the radio, and he noticed it. Ah. Sharp. He actually scrolled back to play the song. Yes, the music was unmistakably Bollywood. He let it play and started walking towards the weights.

I went back to staring at the numbers on the treadmill, wondering when the music would stop and the song would begin, cos I was not able to identify the song.

Suddenly the song blasted, and the next thing I know the singer was repeating a million times over, "On the roof! In the rain! On the roof! In the rain! On the roof! In the rain!"

Geez, what song was that?! I was a bit shocked at first.

But soon it became hilarious! I wanted to burst out laughing but I did not. Controlling myself with much difficulty, I walked on. I could see he wanted to laugh too. But he was far away from the radio now and probably did not want to go back to change the station.

So we let it play.

"On the roof! In the rain! On the roof! In the rain! On the roof! In the rain!" went on the moronic song.

And to my utter amazement, after a while, I found myself exercising to the beats of the song. He had gone back to doing his sit-ups and was bobbing his head to the beat too.

It was funny. And strangely comforting. Two strangers who always gave each other attitude exercising to a stupid song about rain on the roof.

And just then, another guy - a Chinese fellow - walked into the gym and did a double-take. He appeared extremely disturbed to hear the song that the two weird Indians were exercising to. And the worst part is - the lyrics were in English, so he understood them. But he did not quite understand them. You know what I mean. And that made him even more puzzled.

He paused near the door for a while, and then took turns to look at Friday-night-no-life guy and then at me. He looked visibly traumatised.

Friday-night-no-life guy strained his neck to give me a "Would you put the fella out of his misery now? I'm lying on the floor for heaven's sake!" look.

I continued to walk on with a "You played it, you stop it. Why should I pause my treadmill?" look.

Outnumbered by the minority (which probably appeared to him to be a couple who had just fought and was letting off steam at the gym), the Chinese guy did not dare to change the station. But he still had the petrified look on his face.

"On the roof! In the rain! On the roof! In the rain! On the roof! In the rain!" The song went on.

Finally Friday-night-no-life guy realised it was too much. He got up and switched the station to an English one.

The Chinese guy was smiling as he got on the exercise cycle.

Friday-night-no-life guy was also smiling.

And I was smiling too.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Bar's open again!

A forum administrator.


That's what I had become. (Thanks for putting it in such apt words, Viv. Couldn't have done it better myself!)

I'd been feeling that for quite some time now; the recent incident only reminded me one more time.
So Aslambhai, Negative kid, don't give yourself too much credit that I took a break because of you. It takes much more than two guys who don't even know her, to break the mighty Sayesha :)

I'd been feeling it for some time now. That I'd been getting too hung up about the comments. What to reply, when to reply, whom to reply, how to reply.


This is not how my blog started off as. It was never about the comments. It was just me, my thoughts and a bunch of people, hanging out at my bar and getting high on a strong dose of OJ, bad jokes, friendship and happiness.

My blog was never about me having to justify anything. But overwhelmed by the surge of comments, perhaps I had started doing exactly that.

And I got my dues.

Perhaps I was at fault. For thinking that if I don't hurt anyone, no one will hurt me.

Perhaps I was at fault. For thinking that everything around me is beautiful and happy.

But you know what? I will keep my faults.

I will not change my views. I will continue to believe that
everything around me is beautiful and happy. I refuse to be cynical, unhappy and negative, no matter how "in" or "cool" it is.

this is me, the same old Sayesha. And this is how I will always be. Take me or leave me. The choice is yours.

I am a happy person by nature, and no matter how hard you try, you can't put a happy Sayesha down. Hell, even she can't keep herself down. Even her so called blogging break lasted less than 48 hours. (She's currently very busy rolling her eyes at herself.)

It's past midnight. I gotta get up at six to go to work tomorrow. But I'm so excited I can't sleep. So I threw my warm comforter aside and got out of bed. Things have suddenly cleared up in my head. I want to sing. I want to dance. I want to say "Mujhse dosti karoge, Aslambhai?" and really really mean it. Dil se.

And I want to blog.

And today, here in this post, I talk to myself once again. I remind myself of the old days of blogging. Small incidents I remember that make me smile to myself. And I feel strangely relieved. Because it's all coming back.

I will bring it all back.


Remember the days when more friends than strangers read your blog?

Remember the days when all the comments on your blog were by people whom you knew in real life?

Remember the days when you couldn't wait till the end of the day so you could go home and blog?

Remember how mad Virdi got when someone thought he was a girl because he said he was jealous of you on the post he wrote about 'Sayesha's pretty hands'?

Remember the time Virdi described you on his blog as "
has little chinki chinki types looks but is pakka Hindustani, she even tells me "abe kar di na sardar wali baat."'?

Remember the days when Virdi used to say, "Sayesha apne yeh haath mujhe de de thakur!"?

Remember the days when Sahil used to say, "I know what you're thinking. I even know what you don't know you're thinking."?

Remember the days when ROS used to kill all the jokes in the post and then say "I killed the joke."?

Remember the friendships that were formed on your blog?

Remember the comment space that used to be our playground?

Remember the days of only four comments per post?

Remember the day when you blogged about Surreal Reality and how you missed your old musical band, and you had no idea he was reading it?

Remember the days when Soldier and Sahil used to discuss Soldier's apparently gay shirt?

Remember how Aye Kay jokingly said that you'd probably not complete Hopscotch-Cambodia by the end of 2005, and you proved him right, much against your will?

Remember the post (which incidentally had nothing to do with DCH) where everyone jotted down their favourite scenes from DCH till we had the full movie described in the comment space, sending Weird Hair Anil into fits of laughter?

Remember how freaked out you were when you found out that Siddhu's Mom and Clueless' Dad read your blog, considering your 'no access to the second generation' policy?

Remember the days when Keshav used to discuss songs from ye olde Hindi movies that you'd never even heard about?

Remember the days when you used to bug the hell out of Kini by using ROS-ish nicknames?

Remember the days when the banter on the comment space was much more fun than the posts?

Remember how hard you laughed when you were proudly telling Bananapen that your good friend Cubicle introduced you to blogger.com and she said that she was the one who had introduced Cubicle to it?

Remember the days when Abhi told you wanted to print out this post in colour and slot it under every door of the girls' hostel?

Remember the days when Spammy pretended not to give up even though you told him he's too young for you?

Remember the days when Bonatellis wanted to hire you in his company?

Remember the time when you said you would hire Siddhu and Leon as editors in your team?

Remember the days when you turned down Weird Hair Anil's 'marriage proposal' because his 'Will you marry me' question had an exclamation mark at the end instead of a question mark?

Remember the first bloggers' meet you attended in Singapore and how humbled you felt when you met the gods of Singapore-blogging?

Remember the days of frustration because Sumedh changed his blog address every couple of weeks?

Remember how the chatur chaar were formed?

Remember wanting to check up the geography of the US so you could make a a list of bloggers to visit when you went there?

Remember getting furious at 'the guy who apparently tried to hack into and delete (oh the horror!) Priya's blog', and then finding out that it was just a bug?

Remember having to call up Virdi and asking to speak to Fao because you were so damn bugged with the irrelevant and unmanageable 50 comments she and her colleagues used to post on your blog every day?

Remember becoming friends with Fao later, and exchanging ye olde Hindi songs over email?

Remember explaining to a frustrated Raven why you had to have word verification turned on?

Remember discovering Manish's blog, and having a hard time reading hindi words in English, and yet reading everything?

Remember turning down a fellow blogger's suggestion of not allowing anonymous comments or using comment moderation?

Remember wondering who Jupiter, Casablanca, Spamtaneous and Renegadefade were, because they sounded like familiar strangers?

Remember the days of trying to guess which one of your juniors Oxymoron was, and finally giving up?

Remember wishing you had a colleague like Puneet to make the office lively and happening?

Remember Naari trying to read into your cryptic posts and making requests such as 'What's happening, babe? Please update long distance junta!'?

Remember the days when Chints challenged you that he would find out your address and send you flowers and Kit-Kat from FloraIndia?

Remember the days when Vikram used to say "Yeh post toh mere sar ke oopar se guzar gaya, Sayesha!"?

Remember Kini falling asleep on his keyboard, barely a paragraph into your post?

Remember the days no one expected you to 'keep up the quality of your posts'?

Remember the days when comments were about the things you wrote the post, and not about you?

Remember the days when you used to blog only about incidents and not thoughts, so there was no judgement?

Remember your favourite post of all times, about the bar Sayeshaz, where all of us used to hang out and just get drunk on OJ?

Remember fondly thinking of 'The Girl who sold the world' and 'Negative Creep' as 'overgrown bachaas behaving like pachaas'?

Remember wondering who was crazier -- Chapaat or Virdi?

Remember Tinku's furious scoldings every time you mentioned death?

Remember how hilarious Vikram's first email to you was?

Remember trying to convince Kais and Harshi that they should start their own blogs?

Remember the time when you discovered that a couple of your commentators were juniors from your university who knew you personally?

Remember the people who met each other on your blog and emailed to tell you about it?

Remember the incredible number of strangers you connected with on your blog?

Remember the days of the simple joy of blogging?

Remember the days when it was so easy being Sayesha?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

A critical point

Life is like a thin guy with a paunch.



This is not going to be another one of those apparently annoying analogy posts from the artificial and contrived production line of Sayesha's blog!!!!

Calm down, people! CALM DOWN!!!!!! WOULD YOU PLEASE CALM DOWN!

IT WAS A JOKE!!! This post is not an analogy post!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I SAY CALM DOWN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Ok, it looks like I'm the one who needs to calm down. Everyone else is already calm.)

Breathe, Sayesha, breathe.


Okay. I'm done.

Pardon me if I am a bit dotty today. The person I admire the most in my professional life just left my company, and although I'd been mentally preparing for this day, when it actually happened, it was very upsetting. This person taught me to fall in love with my job. And I don't feel like working there anymore.

Sigh. She said she needed a break.

And so do I.

First things first. Two of 'em:

1. I am not even going to try and shake off the reputation I seem to have with some people. Of someone whose blog posts (and hence, thoughts, since a post is but a thought) are contrived and artificial. Or someone who can’t take criticism. You think what you think, and I can’t change it.

2. I will not pretend to be someone who's not affected at all by criticism. No matter how thick-skinned my blog has made me, every time someone says something spiteful, it does pinch a bit. Thankfully, for a short while only.

So what is this post about? It's about criticism. Before you start thinking of me as someone who's never faced criticism before and is hence taking all the blog criticism so seriously, let me tell you something. Criticism is something I am familiar with, not just on my blog, but at my work.

I have to criticise the work of authors twice my age. I have to criticise the work of editors under me. Sometimes I have to criticise comments made by the Ministry of Education. To ensure that my magazine is of the highest quality, I have to criticise the work of my designers, my illustrators. Sometimes, I have to criticise my boss' decisions. It’s difficult, but the fact that I have been at the receiving end helps a lot. Besides, my bosses have trained me well.

When I was training under my senior editor in 2003, every single piece of my work went to her for approval. And most of it was torn apart. And I remember never even once getting frustrated when things would be sent back without her signature, with comments and criticisms all over the place, and often asking for redrafts and more redrafts.


Because I knew she knew her stuff. And because of the manner in which she criticised.

And here are the mantras of criticism my bosses taught me:

1. Criticise the work, not the person.
2. Praise in public, criticise in private.
3. Remember the point of your criticism. Not for you to show how you're superior to your editor. But to work together to create a good book.
4. You can only get an author twice your age to trust your criticism about his/her book if you can prove your knowledge.

That's the whole point of criticism actually. To know what you’re talking about. To add value. To come up with something meaningful. Something constructive.

Everything else is just spite.

If you’re putting your heart and soul into something, it hurts when someone criticises. Especially when the criticism does not add any value to anything. We’re all proud of the stuff we do. No one likes to be told they suck at what they love to do. Unless it comes from someone who’s been there done that, or someone who helps in some way with his/her criticism.

Once I was at dinner with my colleagues and when the bill came, the person who did the division made an error, giving us a ridiculous figure. Someone said, "And you’re a Maths editor!” And the rest of us laughed. In retrospect, it was a mean thing to say. We just assumed that because she was a Maths editor, she would be able to do mental maths and tell us the magic figure. We’d just criticised her professional competence. We’d made a personal attack on something she was proud of. And we had not added any value to her.

I remember the time when I had freshly graduated as an engineer, and had gone home for a vacation when our TV conked out.

Dad said, “Can you open it up and check what’s wrong?”

“What??? Me?? Open up the TV??” I looked at him in horror.

"But you’re an Electrical and Electronics Engineer!”

He was joking, of course. He just wanted to see the look of horror on my face, but the point is -- we don't like being criticised about what we do. Or to have someone tell us that we're not good enough.

Many people think that being an editor is all about good english and no typos.

Bah, I say.

Three years into publishing, I am still learning to be a good editor. I believe I have only accomplished a slice of what there is to be learnt in the full spectrum.

Have you seen the number of typos I make, especially when I'm particularly excited in a post? Once I spelt 'discreet' as 'discrete' without even realising it. An anonymous kind soul on my blog pointed it out to me.

Without judging me.

Without saying that I suck as an editor just because I can't control my typos. (Anonymous, if you're reading this, thank you. I am really grateful to you.)

Perhaps that’s the reason why I'm not very open to anonymous people strolling by my blog and criticising my posts in a way that adds value to neither them nor me. It appears as if it just gives them cheap thrills to see me riled up. And I get riled up because I believe that if you have the right to lash at me, I SO have the right to lash back at you.

It's amazing how I can walk around on the streets with really weird thoughts in my head, and none's gonna say a word to me, but the moment I choose to put them down on my own blog, I have set myself up for vicious attacks.

I refuse to write only 'safe posts' just so people will not criticise. Do we only think 'safe thoughts'?

I don't blog to 'improve my writing skills'. I don't blog to earn money. I have no plans to enter the blogging Olympics. I won't apologise for the following analogy. I'm like that really bad tennis player who is not Sharapova but plays tennis only for exercise. So don't come and tell me that I can't play tennis for nuts. I know that. And I’m not even really looking into improving my game because I have no desire to turn professional. Ever. Like I said, I play for exercise. No matter how much I suck. But if you want to help me improve my game, you’d better be a friend of mine or Sharapova herself. I will not let random stranger off the roads who's never played tennis, come and tell me I suck at tennis. I already know I suck at it.

Perhaps that's why I am more open to criticism from people who are either bloggers themselves, or those who fall under the category 'Others' and are regulars on my blog, people whom I know, rather than Anonymous people who just walk by and say some random thing. Trust me, you have to be a blogger to know what we go through. You can’t just sit in your commentator’s high chair and say, “Come on Sayesha! Take a chill pill! You only want people to pat you on the back and tell you that you’re the goddess of blogging and more? Learn to accept criticism!” These words, coming from you guys, who have never been-there-done-that, are hollow and meaningless, though they may sound really mature and impressive.

Like I mentioned in my earlier post, if someone on the streets walks up to me and says, "You suck!" what's the best thing to do?

Ignore him. That's right. But like I said before, I do not ignore any commentator on my blog. I have to say something in reply to his/her comment, even though I do not know him/her. I will laugh it off. But only if you meant it as a joke.

Suppose someone like one of my chatur chaar or Kini (he tells me all the time that he yawns at most of my posts and can never get thru an entire post) or Spammy (he’s blunt and sharp at the same time!) say "Sayesha, your post sucks!" I will either take it that they meant it as a joke and laugh it off (after of course, thwacking them with a rolled up newspaper), or really take a step back and wonder why they said that, and try and improve. But if I don't even know you, and I don't even know whether you're joking or just being spiteful, I won't laugh! I'll just ask you to stop reading my blog.

A good debate is always welcome. Prince and I had a good debate when he thought I was judging polar bear researchers. Negative Creep, The Girl who sold the world, and some others had a very good debate on tradition. Now that's welcome. Tell me you don't agree with my post, it's fine. Let's talk about it. But if you just want to say that my post is artificial, what do you want me to reply? "I deeply apologise"? Or “Thank you?”? Think about it, what should be my reply? Seriously. Don’t ask me to chill. Cos like I said, if you have the right to lash at me, how can you expect me to be all dignified and not lash back at you?

The point is -- if your comment is going to be random and meaninglessly critical, you'd either be Virdi (sorry yaar Virdi, lekin seriously, you can get away with saying a lot of things to me and I won’t mind, apun ki dosti hi aisi hai) and or you'd better identify yourself.

Believe me when I say it, it makes a difference.


ps: I have decided to take a break from blogging. No, not because of Aslam's/Creep's comments or because I can't handle criticism or because I have lost the battle against MACs or because Anonymous comments scare me (if that was the case, I'd either disallow anonymous comments or turn on comment moderation).

I am taking a break because my blogging is no longer the simple pleasure it used to be.

I am taking a break because the reason why I created the blog seems to have been lost. And I need to find it again. I need to start thinking once again about the point of my blog.

I am taking a break because I am tired of having to justify why I am the way I am. I shouldn't have to justify. This is me. Take me or leave me.

I will not be coming back for a while, not even to reply to comments.

And oh, please feel free to judge me some more. Because I won’t be around to care.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Jeans forever

So the other day, I opened my wardrobe and almost screamed.

No, there was no dead (or worse, alive) lizard in there. I had just seen something rather shocking.

When your wardrobe starts to look like 'a huge random pile of tangled messy things', and you can't tell where one piece of clothing begins and the other ends, it's time to call for help.

My crazy schedules leave me no time to maintain a neat wardrobe. I'm lucky if my droopy eyes can spot something to pull out at 6:30 in the morning from the big pile, pull it on and rush to work.

But the shocking sight was too much for me to take. I decided to do something about it.

So I asked a friend who'd come over to help me sort the clothes because it looked so intimidating it was beyond my humanly capabilities to handle it myself. We took everything out and started folding and sorting the clothes into neat little stacks on my bed. Soon you could not see the bedcover. Stack of trousers, jeans and three-quarters. Stack of T-shirts. Stack of shorts. Stack of short skirts. Stack of long skirts. Stack of 'clothes that are too fancy to wear to office'. Stack of night dresses. Stack of singlets. Stack of formal clothes. Stack of Indian clothes. Stacks and more stacks.

And during this process, I discovered some clothes from ancient days. Clothes that I had forgotten existed in my life. Some very special ones at that, that I used to simply adore. As I picked one up, and stared at it in suprised amusement, it struck me suddenly.

The clothes in our wardrobe are like the people we meet and become friends with.

They come in all sizes, shapes and colours. We acquire more and more of them as time passes, and we lose many of them along the way. Sometimes we look for them consciously, and sometimes something just catches our fancy and we grab them before they can slip away.

Some are favourites. We're seen most often with them. They make us happy.

Some seem to hug you, others make you uncomfortable.

Some only make sense when put together. Others can hold their own.

Some are with us all the time. Even though they may not be visible on the outside. But they are there all right.

Some are very bright and cheerful, and it's not easy to ignore them. You can spot them even if they are at the bottom of the huge messy pile. You can't get them out of the way, no matter how much you try. They have that spark, that quality to make their presence felt.

Some just seem to complete you.

In the case of some, you feel proud to have discovered them. Even though they were there for everyne to see, it was you who found them. And they're all yours to keep. But one fine day, someone else - a sister, a friend or a cousin - likes them so much, they just take them away and never return them. And you have no choice but to let go.

And there are some you just have to give away. Just because the time and situation demands so. No matter how much you love them, you have to let go. You just don't get along any more, and you have to face it things are not the way they were in the beginning. They just don't make you feel the way they used to.

Then there are the fancy ones. You're only seen with them once in a while. Those are the ones that get mixed reviews. Some people feel that you can't pull off something that fancy, while others see a new you.

Then there are the secret ones, which you'd rather not disclose to anyone. You got them when you were on a shopping-high, and you really like them, but they don't really go with anything else in your wardrobe. So you hide them deep down and hope no one ever spots them. But you never throw them.

Some look great when you first see them, but after you've brought them in, you realise they are not what you thought they were. Perhaps you'd seen them in a different light earlier.

You need pegs and hangers to hold some, otherwise they will slip away. Others will stick around no matter how rough a treatment you give them.

Some need more care than others to last longer. If you don't follow instructions, they may change colour.

And sometimes, you see some and sigh, "I had one exactly like that... years and years ago..."

And finally, there's that pair of jeans which stick with you for years and years. And years.

Because when it comes to comfort level, nothing else even comes close.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Manila trip - Part 4

Before you guys go "What??? Another one???" let me reassure you that is the last of my Manila Trip series. (Did I hear sighs of relief?)

The next morning, there was a slight drizzle, and things somehow looked very different. An ardent lover of rain, I was all jumpy and happy. The drive to the school was an incredibly long one, and I was having a blast clicking pictures of whatever I could, while others took a nap.

Rainy day by the bay, captured by Sayesha, who refused to take a nap

I love this pic. Jeep in focus, person blurred out. Just the way I like things here at Sayeshaz! ;)

This is a picture of a jeep, a mode of public transport that costs only 7 pesos for the first 4 kms! I really wanted to take a ride in a jeep, but Paulo wouldn't allow it. D promised to take me around in a jeep the next time I was in Manila.

But when?? Sigh.

As per usual practice, I always take photos of funny signs whenever I can. I found these two signs particularly hilarious.

The one on top said, "Do not block the sidewalk. The sidewalk is for people." Errr.. you mean the roads are not for people?

The second was "No parking both sides!" But what if I park on only one side? :P

We reached the school, and the Maths speaker started his session. The Director of the school, who turned out to be this extremely young-looking grandma (her photo's on Hopscotch) suggested that there was no point in me just waiting around for my turn, and I might as well do some shopping instead. She drove us to a nearby mall in Global City called 'Market! Market!' which was simply fabulous!

Market! Market! What a cool name!

We only had like two hours before I was due at the venue, so we split and went on to do our own shopping. I bought many many accessories at this little shop before I attacked the clothes shops.

I was walking around when I spotted it. The proverbial little black dress that every girl in the world must own. I had been looking for mine for a very very long time, and I could find it neither in India, nor Singapore, nor the UK. Something or the other would just not be right.

But there it was, tucked in a shop in Manila, my perfect little black dress.

I tried it on in five different colours (!!), and finally fell in love with two - the black one and the red one. I decided to get both because little dresses are like black shoes, one can never have too many of them.

Suddenly I realised that I should check how much money I had before I made any grand purchases. The last evening, I had bought dried mangoes and candy for my colleagues, and I had no idea how much cash I had left. The shops did not accept credit cards, so I had to use my pesos. To my horror, I realised I did not have enough cash to buy both dresses, and I was so not leaving the shop with only one of them. If I walked away with one, it would be an insult to the one I left behind. So I bargained and bargained until the lady in the shop agreed to my price.

And so I came out of the shop utterly delighted, carrying a bag with two fabulous dresses and a wallet with only 15 pesos (less than a dollar!) left.

When I told the others how I had cleaned my wallet out, they started laughing.

"So what are you going to do with your 15 pesos now?"

"Spend it, of course! I am due at the venue in 15 minutes after which I am going to the airport. I don't need to keep any cash on me."

"Good luck trying to find something that you can get in 15 pesos!" They laughed.

"Oh yeah! You wanna try me?" As usual, always up for a challenge.

I walked around on my 'spend the 15 pesos' mission. They were right, what could I possibly get in 15 pesos?

Steamed peanuts? Yikes, who was gonna eat them??

I could have bought a fruit or two, but the shopkeeper would have laughed at me.

Bougainvillea bonsai? Naah, beyond my budget.

Finally, I found a bakery that was selling packets of cute little muffins. All cleaned out, I triumphantly made my way back to my group and showed them the muffins. They laughed helplessly as we gobbled on the tiny muffins.

And oh, may I just say that they were the softest muffins in the entire world??

Oh man.

Paulo's driver was there in his green van to fetch us. We had a quick lunch, and then my session started. This time, I had a mixture of English, Science and Maths teachers so I tried hard to make my presentation as lively as possible as not to put the English and Maths people to sleep. Thankfully, they didn't.

The Q&A also went well. Oh, this reminds me. In one of the schools on the first day, one of the teachers raised her hand and her question was "Can I see the thumb drive you used? I want to see how small it is."

It was such an incredibly cute question that I almost hugged her.

After my session, I had a little chat with the school's director over some cut fruits. She told me how she had started the school as a small tuition centre, and how it had grown to have both primary and secondary levels. I almost choked on my watermelon slice when she showed me pictures of her grand-kids.

"You're a grandmother? Wow!" I could not help but exclaim. She looked so young! (Check out her pics on Hopscotch.)

She said she wanted a copy of the Science revision guide that I'd co-written. Unfortunately, we were out of copies.

"You must send me one when you get back to Singapore. An autographed copy, please."

The book she's talking about is my pride and joy. I was never supposed to write it in the first place. The original authors had backed out at the last minute, but the book had been promised to the schools. Teachers had even seen the cover design! Marketing told us that there was no way out, but to come out with the book on time. So a bunch of us editors decided to split the work and do the writing. How I remember the breath of relief we had when it finally went to press.

The book went on to become a bestseller. We sold more than 25000 copies in half a year. However, we did not get any royalties from it, because according to company policy, employees can't earn royalties. So we were just given a bonus as reward for the book's phenomenal success. The other day, I was calculating -- if we'd been getting royalties, I'd be $11000 (and growing) richer now.

Sigh. Sigh. Sigh.

But the book continues to be very close to my heart, and every time I come across a copy, I remember the blood, sweat and tears that went into it. And I am filled with a sense of pride.

Sheesh, look at me, all carried away. Now where was I?

It was time to leave for the airport. My Marketing Manager asked, "So all you guys have your airport tax?"

Shock. Horror. I had completely forgotten that he had passed me 550 pesos to pay airport tax on the way back. My shopping buddies started laughing.

"Sayesha's airport tax went into a little black dress."

(Sheesh, that made me sound like such a bimbo!)

"WHAT?" He could not believe it. "How many pesos do you have on you now?"

The girls were giggling like crazy.

"Zero. I have no more pesos."

"You spent it ALL?"

"Errr... yeah. Listen, I need to borrow 550 pesos. I will pay you back in Singapore dollars."

After a lot of leg-pulling, he finally lent me the money. Phew.

So Paulo dropped us off at the airport, and we made our way in. After another round of endless waiting, we had crossed immigration. The Maths speaker was hungry so we had some snacks at a cafe where I took the last round of my Manila pictures.

The aim was to get the plane exactly in the centre of the photo and I succeeded.

And this is the last one. Goodbye, Manila! You're fabulous!

I landed in Singapore around 10:30 pm.

And as I stepped out of the gates after picking up my luggage, my little song came back to me.

And I ask myself at the end of the day
'Whom did you miss the most today?'

Suddenly, in a flash, everything became crystal clear.

The one I'd missed the most was there at the airport to receive me.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Manila trip - Part 3

Before each of my sessions, I used to get some background info about my target audience. When I found out that the next two schools had been using our books for a year, I decided to modify my training session for them. There was no point making the session very sales-oriented because they were existing customers. I wanted to focus on customer-retention instead. So I told Paulo that since my presentation was only around noon, I would make some changes to my slides during the Maths session in the morning.

"No problem!" said Paulo. "We will be leaving for the venue really early, but you can join us later. Same driver, same van, will pick you up at 1130." So I woke up really early and started reworking the slides, still half tucked in bed. (I suddenly realised that this was the first time I was actually using a laptop on my lap! But seriously, how many people really keep their laptops on their lap really?) I worked on it for about four hours. It felt nice to be working in a different setting, away from the office, away from the cubicles, the macintoshes, the noises.

Finally, I was done with enough time to get ready. The driver was punctual, and in about half an hour, I was at the venue. This session was not in a school, but we had booked a bigger venue as a few schools were invited to it. It was a beautiful place directly facing the bay.

I reached just as lunch was being served. Guess what they had in the lunch buffet? More buku salad! Yeayeay! I downed two more bowls. Sheesh, they say the human body is 70% water. I think that in Manila, my body was 70% buku salad and mangoes.

I was unusually happy and enthusiastic that day (could be the sugar high from the buku salad) After the session, as usual I asked
"Any questions?"

A teacher raised her hand.

"Can I look at the model?" She asked. I had to use every bit of control not to crack a really bad joke.

"Ma'am, you are looking at the model." I wanted to say, but resisted the urge.

"Must maintain credibility and respectability at all moments!" I told myself and managed to hold it in.
"Sure." I handed her the model and it made its way around the room as the fascinated teachers played around with it.

And as usual, one of the guy teachers went nuts over the CD-ROM science game. The other teachers watched as he struggled with an interactive crossword puzzle.

"How do you spell precipitation, Miss Sayesha?" I spelt it out for him. He went on to the next level. "The word should be glacier. Spelling please!" He demanded to my surprise. The other teachers were giggling away. I wasn't sure if he was being funny or he really did not know the spelling. With (a lot of) help from the teachers and me, he managed to finish the game and return to his seat, a happy and contented man.

As soon as my session was over, some of the teachers came over. I was glad that the shy ones had mustered enough courage to approach me with questions. To my surprise, most of the questions were about my age.

"She's only 25! So yong!"

In my head, I was singing "25 till I die".

Ah, dear 25, my favourite age of all. It's slipping away. :(

I was talking to the teachers when My Publishing Manager walked in. She had missed my session as she was preparing for the next one.

"So how was it, Sayesha?" She asked.

Before I could say anything, the teacher I was talking to had replied, "Oh, it was very good. She is very yong and talented."

Whoala! What timing for the boss' entry! I tried to look as modest as I could but I was so delighted! I hope she remembers the teacher's words during my appraisal! :P

Later, after the teachers had left the room, I started collecting my stuff, and to my horror realised that the model of the respiratory system was missing.
The Publishing Manager was surprised to see me looking under the chairs.

"What happened?" She asked.

"Have you seen my respiratory system? I can't find it!"

"How are you breathing then? Hahahaha!" She said.

Sheesh, I wasn't the only one with all the bad jokes then. What a relief.

Soon, everyone in the room started looking for it.
Here are some of the statements that were being relayed across the room as more people walked in and asked what had happened.

"Sayesha's lost her respiratory system."

"Do you think the teachers liked Sayesha's respiratory system so much that they took it with them?"

"Have you found your respiratory system, Sayesha?"

Finally I spotted it! It was lying on one of the chairs in front. It wasn't in a good state so I had to do some replacement surgery (I had taken extra balloons, a bottle and a straw with me for situations such as these), and soon my respiratory system was as good as new!

Just as I thought I was done for the day, and could relax (I was exhausted, as this session had been twice as long as my first two), the agent came to me with what he called 'a special request'.
Two teachers who had been given the wrong timing had missed my talk and had requested if I would mind doing a special session just for them, because they were really keen. So I did a tutorial kind of a session for them, and they were so incredibly grateful it was almost embarrassing. And oh, the two teachers (one guy and one girl) were possibly the best-looking Filipinos I had ever seen.

Wonder how the students concentrated in class.

As we were packing up, the Marketing Manager said, "Have you seen the feedback forms?" My heart skipped a beat. I didn't even know there were feedback forms for the sessions. He passed me a whole stack of them. I looked through them nervously. Fortunately for me, they were all good. The teachers had marked either 'excellent' or 'good' for all the items in the form. I really felt like a primary school kid who had just topped the class. And I had validation from 50 teachers to prove it, muahaha!

Some had very interesting comments on the last page. One wrote "Thank God for such workshops!" Others suggested more topics we could cover in the future. Overall, it was a very useful eye-opener for me.

The Marketing Manager was getting restless as we waited for the driver who was stuck in a traffic jam. So a few of us decided to walk back to the hotel. We were at the hotel in five minutes flat! And in the morning, it had taken us half an hour by van. So you can imagine the traffic.

"It's so close! I could have walked it this morning, isn't it?" I asked Paulo. But he shook his head. He had not wanted me to walk anywhere by myself.
Apparently, snatching incidents were common. My Publishing Manager warned, "Be careful with your bag, Sayesha." I was holding my big bag which had all my notes and my respiratory system.

"Don't worry, I have slung it around my shoulder. It's 'unsnatchable'. If someone wants my bag, he has to take me with it! Hahaha!" I said proudly.

"Errr.... I don't think he'd mind, you know!" She said cheekily.

Sheesh. I freaked out a bit and inched closer to Paulo.

On the way, we were still making fun of the Marketing Manager's 50% tip to 'the best he'd ever had' when he happened to disclose something else. Apparently, when he was taking his shower, his masseuse had walked in on him! (The shower cubicle was inside the massage room.) Fortunately, the shower walls were not transparent. Unfortunately, they were not fully opaque either!

"She saw my butt, man!" He exclaimed. "Oh, that's why you tipped her 50%?" I asked innocently.

"Hahahaha!" Someone said. "You have to compensate people who accidentally see your butt? It's that ugly, huh? Hahahaha!"

Soon we were helplessly roaring with laughter. I don't think he was very happy, but we couldn't help it -- he'd asked for it!

When I got back to my room, I caught a glimpse of a fabulous sunset. So I shot a few pics after having to do some pretty wild contortions to get a good view. I even got a one-minute video that shows how fast the sunset was. Awesome. Considering that these pics were all taken through a dirty glass window, I think they turned out pretty darn good, what say?

Sometimes I wonder if hundreds of years later, people (if there are any left) will have such marvellous sights to enjoy.

Sunset - Phase 1

Sunset - Phase 2

Sunset - Phase 3

Sunset - Phase 4

Sunset - Phase 5

Sunset - Phase 6

Dinner was at a Korean place, and it was yummy!

Fried dumplings - even the thought of them makes my mouth water (Starbreez, halp! Where can I find really good ones in Singapore???)

Appetisers - they almost filled me up!

The chicken soup was cooked at our table itself!

After the amazing dinner, we headed back to the hotel. It was about 10:30 pm. I looked around my room. There was no computer, no books, no assignments, no blog. So I decided to watch TV for a while before going to sleep.

And as I gathered the comforter around me and flicked channels, a very surprising thought hit me.

It had been sooooooo long since I'd done that.

Just sit and watch TV.

In Singapore, I have to be up by 6 and out of the house by 7 am. Three days a week, I have evening classes and get home only around 10:30 pm. The other days, I am either in the gym or working on my class assignments. I realised that I had lived in my present house for almost six months now and I had never done the 'just sit and watch TV routine'. I'd feel damn guilty if I did that. As if I was not 'making good use of time'. I guess I'm the kind of person who 'must have something
constructive to do all the time'. Else I get uneasy and restless.

One of my friends had told me that once in a while, I need to learn to chill and not do anything at all without feeling guilty.

I remembered his words and nestled comfortably in the bed.

And for some reason, it felt reeeeal goooood.

I was just sittin' and watchin' TV, you see. :)

Monday, February 20, 2006

Manila trip - Part 2

The next morning, I had to get up really early because Paulo had warned us that the traffic was really bad and we had to factor in half an hour to an hour for traffic jams. After battling through crazy traffic, finally we reached our destination. The first school where I had the training session was next to President Gloria Arroyo's residence (also known as 'the palace'), so security was very high around the school.

We were warmly received by the principal of the school, who led us into the seminar room, where I was greeted by a bunch of very friendly teachers -- my audience for the morning. The presentation went good. It was an eye-opener how different teachers in the Philippines are from Singapore teachers, in terms of their way of thinking and the way they process information. Their concerns included things like the lack of a laboratory to carry out experiments, and other such factors, which I had never come across in a Singapore school. Also, they were very receptive towards the activity-based teaching of Science that I covered in my presentation. It was amazing how in spite of limited resources, the teachers were passionate enough to learn about how other countries were teaching science in schools. I was flooded by questions from them.

Since it was my first presentation in front of an unknown group, I tried to be all serious, and test the ground first before I...errr... became myself. I realised that many teachers had questions for me but were too shy to ask me. So I opened up a word document (the teachers could see it on the projector screen) and typed the sentence "Shy teachers, you may email me your queries at (_my office email address_)." They started laughing and one of them walked over to me and asked, "How old are you, Miss Sayesha?"

"25." I said.

"Oh! That's very yong!" She exclaimed.

I love that cute Filipino accent. "So yong!" :)

Even Paulo, an ardent lover of candy, would exclaim now and then, "I want kaandy. Who has kaandy?" And he would sulk like a kid till someone got him his candy.

After the session, we sat down for lunch with the teachers.

I noticed something that looked like bittergourd pieces immersed in liquid tofu.

"Sayesha, you must try this dessert!" Said the principal.

"What??!! Dessert made of bittergourd and tofu? Ek toh karela us par tofu chadha??" I tried to put on a smiling face.

I was thinking of ways on how to politely decline her generous offer when she said, "It's made of yong coconut and pandan jelly."

"Oh!" As soon as I realised it wasn't bittergourd in liquid tofu, I attacked it with a vengeance. As soon as I had the first bite, I almost kicked myself. For even letting the thought of skipping that yummy thingie cross my mind. Honestly, it was the yummiest dessert I'd ever had. The principal told me it was known as buku salad.

So I skipped the rice and vegetables and prawns, to make sure there was enough room for me to gobble down three bowls of buku salad.

"Sayesha loves yong coconut, eh?" The principal smiled.

"Yeah! Yong Sayesha loves yong coconut!" I thought to myself and went back to my precious buku salad.

After lunch, we had to rush to the airport to receive the speakers for English and Maths. They had not had lunch, so we took them to a restaurant, where Paulo happily tucked in another round of lunch. We stared at him in disbelief as he said, "Very hungry, yeah?"

The restaurant had mango-sago dessert, and I remembered falling in love with it in Hong Kong, so I did not mind ordering just that. It was nice, but not as yummy as the one in Hong Kong. Sheesh, I miss Hong Kong.

My afternoon session was to begin soon, and we quickly dropped off the two speakers at the hotel and made our way to the second school. As soon as we stepped out of the van, we were in for a surprise. The school had a huge welcome banner displayed for us.

"Oh my goodness! I exclaimed.

Paulo started laughing.


"Hahaha! You know they were even going to arrange for the school band to welcome you, but some last minute thing came up and they could not."

Thank goodness they did not! I'd have been embarrassed to death if there had been a welcome band for me! But all the lifts in the school had banners with my name on it! Whoa, talk of an ego boost! They even gave me a framed certificate at the end of the session, as it said, 'for having shared her expertise during the lecture-workshop on Teaching Enhancements for Science.'

This school was better funded than the last one, and I was really amazed to see that even the teachers had a uniform. The session also went pretty well.

The model of the respiratory system (picture on the left) I had made to demonstrate model-based learning, became an instant hit.

I passed the model around the room, and the teachers had a cool time tugging at the 'diaphragm' and making the 'lungs' inside the 'ribcage' inflate, and then letting go of the diaphragm to see the lungs deflate.

The teachers were also very excited about the science CD-ROM games. One of the male teachers shyly asked me if he could play one of the games I had demonstrated.

"Sure, go ahead!" I said.

He had such a blast, finishing all the games, with some help from the other very excited teachers. Finally, we were done, and I had another round of teachers congratulating me for 'being a speakerrr at such a yong age'. I really felt like a pampered princess, thanks to the teachers and also Paulo. The way he fussed over me totally spoiled me.

"You tell me wherever you want to go. I will arrange the van and the driver." And he wasn't making empty promises. In the next few days, he really stood by his word. I was surprised to see the number of vans and drivers he had access to. I'm sure if I'd asked to be driven around in front of the US embassy in a cement-mixer, he'd have arranged for it.

So after the incredibly exhausting day, he asked, "What do you want to do now?"

"Err... I don't know... I'm feeling tired..."

"You're tired? You want a massage?"

Visions of big guy Paulo crushing my bones to pulp floated around in my freaked out head.

"Massage??" I think I let the horror show on my face.

"Yes, I will take you to a spa."

"Ohhhh! Spa! Yeah, spa sounds good! Phew!" I heaved a sigh of relief.

So we drive around looking for spas. Paulo also made some calls to find out which were the good ones.

We arrived at one, and he said, "You stay in the van. I will go and check it out whether it is okay or not. Okay?"

"Errr... okay."

He was back in a couple of minutes.

"No good. Too many Japanese businessmen. We will go somewhere else."

So finally we decided on Macapagal (isn't that Prez Arroyo's middle name?) spa, which we'd seen at the seafood place we'd gone to for dinner the previous night.

Sheesh, this reminds me I completely forgot to write about the gay crabs from the previous night!!

Yes, I said 'gay crabs'.

Well, I was walking along the seafood marketing with the agent's agent D, admiring things like this giant eel on the left (have you ever seen anything like this????), when this guy thrust a crab in my face and said something in Tagalog. He looked very pleased with himself, and I freaked out and asked D what he'd just said to me. She said, "Oh, he's just trying to sell you the gay crab."

"Gay crab?????? What on earth is a gay crab???" I was utterly amazed.

"You know... like there are male crabs... and there are female crabs... there are also gay crabs... very tasty... very popular!"

"Hang on, D. Let me get this right... aren't gay crabs a subset of male crabs or female crabs?"

"Uhhh... Well, I dunno exactly... but this is what we call them. Gay crabs."

The man was still holding the apparently gay crab in my face, and I backed off and said, "No I don't want your gay crab. Thanks!" and got outta there as soon as I could.

So where was I? Oh yeah, the Macapagal spa! Each one of us decided to get a massage. Only problem was that they only had four rooms, and there were five of us.

"How about kowpul jacuzzi?" The masseuse suggested.

"No!" I politely declined. Sheesh! Couple jacuzzi it seems. Not yet!

Due to the lack of rooms, one of us had to sacrifice getting the massage. Everyone turned to smile at Paulo (come to think of it, we really bullied him).

He sighed and agreed to waiting around for us.

The massage was phenomenal. Exactly what I needed at the end of the day. Manila has a tipping culture, so we all tipped 10%, but my Marketing Manager was so pleased with his massage that he tipped 50%!

It was very late, and I wanted to catch some sleep in preparation for the next day. So we decided to get dinner from the McDonald's drive-thru. We were all eating in the van itself, and I was having a tough time balancing my chicken, my fries and my drink. Paulo finished his meal within a few minutes and offered to hold my fries for me.

"I will protect them for you." He said.

"Thanks. Just make them you don't protect them by storing them in your stomach." I said.

His right hand man, who was also in the van, started laughing and exchanged some words with Paulo in Tagalog, which Paulo translated for me later. My man here says, "You speak very clearly. He can understand you. Even though he does not know much English." The right-hand man nodded. He insisted on holding my drink. So there I was, sitting like a princess in an old van, eating my chicken, with Paulo holding my fries and right-hand man holding my drink. I was gonna have a tough time adjusting to my tough life in Singapore once I was back.

Finally, we were dropped at our hotel. As we got into the lift, my Marketing Manager still could not stop talking about how his massage was so great and how his tip was justified. A lady got into the lift just as he was saying, "Honestly, Sayesha, she was the best I ever had! I have been to Thailand, Indonesia, Bali, but she was the best. Very strong woman. Knew exactly what I wanted. That's why I tipped her 50%." The lady in the lift was giving him very very strange looks, but he went on and on and on. I was wishing like Sita maiyya, "Dharti phat jaaye aur main usme sama jaaun!" or rather "Lift khul jaaye aur mera floor aa jaaye!" Luckily, it happened soon, and within minutes I was in the comfort of my room and tucked into my cosy bed.

But just before I went to sleep, I remembered something that one of my friends had once told me, “When you’re on an overseas business trip, you tend to think about things that you otherwise wouldn’t.” I never really identified with what he said. I’d never been on an overseas business trip before.

But now I know exactly what he was talking about.

When you’re in a strange land, surrounded by strangers, when your day is crazily packed, you rarely have time to think of anything else. But once in a while, your mind wanders off and you start thinking about things which you'd either never thought were worth thinking, or you were simply not in the right frame of mind. But somehow,an overseas business trip brings that side out, helps put things in perspective. Reminds you of long-forgotten little incidents, brings back lost memories, makes you miss people you'd never thought you'd miss.

And as I snuggled into the comforter and turned the light switch off, I found myself humming these lines I'd penned in my head some time ago:

And I ask myself at the end of the day
'Whom did you miss the most today?'

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Manila trip - Part 1

It's just like my India.

Got back from my Manila trip last night. And even though the four days were crazily packed with training sessions, sometimes two a day, somehow I managed to squeeze in time to look around a bit too. And this is why trip, in spite of being a business trip, made it to Hopscotch, where I document my vacations.

As I'd mentioned in my earlier post, I was supposed to travel by myself. I was a bit nervous about stepping into an unknown country beyond the safe boundaries of Singapore, and expect strangers to pick me up and bundle me off to my hotel, but what the heck, I had no other choice.

My flight was around nine, so I had to get up at about 6:30 am. It felt like any other work day except that I was running half an hour late. I had checked in using the Internet, the night before. And I realised how much internet check-in rocks. I could change my seat by clicking on my preferred seat on a plan view of the plane. Very fascinating.

It had been such a long time since I took an SQ flight that I felt as delighted as a kid of four taking her first ever flight. The airhotesses were so wow. The food was so wow. Personal screens for every passenger with on-demand TV shows and movies. Wow. I watched some episodes of Scrubs and Will & Grace. Even watched a bit of Parineeta. The movie's review in the in-flight programme cracked me up. It had hindi sentences spelt out in English. I almost choked on my orange juice when I read "Shekhar aur Lolita ke pavitra prem par dhokhe aur durachaar ke kaale baadal mandrane lage!" Hahahahaha!

I clicked this pic from my aeroplane window. Just before landing, I could actually see shadows of the clouds on the water! Fascinating!

My first view of Manila City from the plane

Manila City - a closer view

I landed at Manila airport at about 1:30 pm or so. The long queue at Immigration brought back memories of trips to India. It took me about 30 minutes to go past Immigration. (New found respect for Singapore's Changi Airport again!)

The guy at Customs looked at me, smiled and said, "You Indian?"

"Yes" I said.

"Very beautiful." He remarked.

I wasn't convinced. I wonder why he had to confirm the nationality before complimenting the looks.

I walked out to platform ABC (?!) and waited for big guy Paulo to turn up.
The platform was right next to the road, and vehicles often had to make many rounds to pick someone up because security did not allow parking or waiting near the platforms. I had to wait about fifteen minutes before Paulo made his appearance. And I saw a sign that solved the mystery behind platform ABC. Apparently, people whose last names started with the letters A, B or C, were requested to wait at platform ABC. So yes, they had platforms 'DEF' and so on.

ABC platform

I had not yet reached the point of freaking out when Paulo made his appearance. You know how when someone describes someone else to you but when you finally meet them, you're disappointed? Like when someone says "Girl X is damn pretty!" and you meet her and realise that she's ok ok chalega types only? Well, that's how I expected the Paulo thing to turn out. Big guy. Yeah yeah how big can he get?

But boy, was I in for a suprise. Paulo was a big guy (picture on Hopscotch). Massive. Huge. Collosal. Sporting the face of a cute Sumo wrestler, he must have easily weighed more than 150 kgs. Like he said once jovially, "I got into an elevator and the overload warning beep went off. I stepped out, and two guys got in, and it did not beep. So embarrassing for me."

So I was ushered into this van where I met the others -- agents and agents of agents. My Marketing Manager had told me, "Don't worry, they're a very friendly bunch. You'll have fun, because they're all our age!" Self-confessed age-ist that I am, I wasn't too happy with him using the words "our age" since he has two kids already, but when I met the others, I realised he was right, they were all my age. And one of them even turned out to be my classmate in my first year at NTU (of course I did not recognise him, as the Main Lecture Theatre at NTU houses a thousand students at a time.) But it was cool to see another engineer who was not an engineer! I instantly warm up to people like that.

After introductions, Paulo asked me if I was very tired 'cos he had big plans to show me around. I told him I wasn't. We drove around for a bit, and he pointed out a few things on the roads.

Manila City welcomes me!

Every cab has 'How's my driving?' printed on it with a telephone number to call.

Traffic in Manila is crazy. Reminded me of India many many times. Finally, after a long long journey, we reached the hotel.

"If you're not tired, Sayesha, I want to take you shopping! You know why?" said Paulo.

"Errr... why?"

"Because today is your free day! Tomorrow you have two presentations, and there is no time to shop!" He looked disturbed at the thought of it.

"Okay! I just need fifteen minutes to freshen up, and then we can go!"

We'd reached the hotel. It was bang opposite the US embassy, and right next to the bay. Nice location.

The hotel where I stayed. Notice the li'l Starbucks tucked in the corner?

I was really suprised to see how big my room was! One queen-sized bed and an extra single bed all to myself? Woohoo!

My room - huge and cosy

The room had four windows that offered four different views. Though I did not have a window that directly faced the bay, but if I contorted my body enough, I could catch a glimpse from my third window. Coming up later, beautiful pictures of the sunset I took from that window.

View of the city from one of my four windows

View from second window - errr... back of an old factory

I freshened up and chilled in the room for a while. I was supposed to meet the guys at 3 pm at Starbucks. I decided to sms some friends in Singapore, and to my horror, realised that my global roaming wasn't exactly working. I could receive calls and smses but I could not make any calls or send any messages. Darn!

I'd been told that we were going to this place called '168 Mall', which was supposed to be a haven of really cheap stuff, but it was not a very safe area. So I was asked not to wear any jewellery or expensive looking clothes, and not to carry any bag or wallet with me. So I put on a T-shirt and a pair of jeans, tucked my money in one pocket and my one-way phone in the other, and we set off.

We had lunch at the Jollibee foodcourt, where I tucked in a neat Thai meal coupled with mango shake. The mangoes in Manila are simply fabulous. The agent told me that apparently the local Jollibee brand is so successful that MBA schools use it as a case study. We walked around the food court and saw many different kinds of weird stuff. 1-day-old roasted chicks. Chicken embryo fritters. A bit freaky, even for a non-vegetarian.

After lunch, we drove to the 168 Mall. On the way, we passed Chinatown, and Paulo told me that the little area controls half the economy of not just Manila, but the entire country!

The '168 Mall' was truly phenonmenal. There were so many floors and so many shops, that in spite of spending a couple of hours in there, we managed to cover only about 10% of the shops! And I had barely spent half a day in Manila but I ended up spending half of my total money in that mall!

The shopkeepers had such a funny way of bargaining. In India, they would give you a price and you haggle and then you pretend to walk away, and they will run after you with a counter-offer. In Manila, they'd say, "300 pesos for these shoes. Last price 270!" Whoa, girl, give me a chance to bring down the 300, will ya? Are you saying that my barganing skills are so hopeless that you have to help me bargain against yourself?? Sheesh!

The shops actually started closing down around 6:30 pm (good for my wallet!), which I found rather surprising. Hurried smses were exchanged with people in our group who had wandered off to their areas of interest, to assemble at one place. As Paulo and I waited for the other girls to finish their shopping, I asked him if there was an Internet Cafe I could go to.

"There is, but I would not advise it."

"Why not?"

"Kidnap." He said calmly.

"Kidnap? You mean I would get kidnapped?"


"But why??"

(At this point, I felt like Russel Peters when he said, "Who the hell hires an Indian slave? Do I look physically ready to do hard labour?")

Seriously, who the hell kidnaps an Indian, unless we're talking Lakshmi Mittal? Do I look capable of paying any kind of ransom??

"Well, to the kidnappers, we locals are worthless. They only go for the Chinese and the Indians. They're the minority and they're really rich!"

"Wow..." I was still trying to absorb that bit of information.

"So I'll advise you to be careful. You don't exactly blend in, you know!" He smiled. It was true, there were very few Indian faces around. In fact, every time I bought something, they'd ask me curiously, "Please don't mind my asking, but miss, what nationality are you?"

"Indian." I'd say.

"Ah! Indian!" The smile of recognition.

Finally, everyone was together, and we decided to head for dinner. It's amazing how hungry shopping can make you. Paulo took us to this amazing outdoor seafood place, which had a seafood market right next to it. You had to pick the seafood and buy it, and then take it to the restaurant of your choice which would cook it for you according to your specifications. We hogged on crabs and prawns under the beautiful night sky, with live bands playing nice romantic numbers. More mango juice followed. I could feel my loyalty switching from my beloved orange juice to Manila mangoes.

Paulo's girlfriend had joined us, and she wasn't as big-sized as I'd thought she'd be, in order to match him. She did not eat much and mentioned to me that she was dieting. Paulo quipped, "Yes, she should. She's getting very fat."

"She's getting fat, eh? Look at yourself, Paulo!" Someone teased as Paulo tucked in crab after crab after crab.

"But I am a growing boy!" He protested innocently. Growing boy, indeed! Hahahaha!

After dinner, one of the agents D took me around the fruit market. The fruit-sellers seemed very intrigued by my sudden appearance. They called out to me with "Miss, you from India? First time Manila?" When I nodded, they offered me free fruit to taste! After hogging on the free and tiny Senorita bananas (that too when I normally hate bananas!), baby mangoes and juicy pomelos, D bought me some of the stuff I liked, and we joined the group again.

We showed them the tiny fruits we'd bought and I made one of my classic 'sound-right-only-in-my-head' kind of statements, "These fruits are so cute you won't want to eat them!", getting me some weird stares from the group.

Take a look!

Senorita banana - as small as my little finger!

Baby mango

After dinner, it was time for drinks. The guys got beer, and one of the agents asked me if I wanted any alcohol. I was about to decline politely when Paulo furiously jumped in ahead of me with a decisive "No one offers my speaker alcohol! She has a presentation early morning tomorrow!" He said. Wo! Easy there, boy.

But on some levels,
I realised how alike he and I were. Dead serious about work, and dead serious about having fun. And never ever mixing the two.

Anyway, I did order a drink.
Sick of mango juice, I found new appreciation for Pepsi Lite (is it me or does it really taste better than Pepsi original?)

Paulo soon got rather high, and started singing along with the live band. It was a hilarious yet heart-warming sight to see a guy of that size looking at his girlfriend with such helpless love in his eyes, playing with her hair and singing old romantic numbers. I believe that there's nothing quite as romantic as a guy flirting with his own girlfriend/wife. It was funny how
Paulo would complain that he did not get to sit with his girlfriend in the van, as due to his size he was always forced to sit in front with the driver, to make room for people at the back.
Finally, we were done for the day and made our way back to the hotel, as it was quite late and I had to get up early the next day. On our way, we passed the bay and noticed how it had undergone a total transformation. The night scene was fabulous, with a live band playing every two blocks. It was noisy, and yet, somehow very peaceful.

They dropped me off and I made my way back to my room, utterly exhausted and ready to collapse on my bed.

Tomorrow was going to be a big day.

Coming up in part two - a grand welcome for 'yong Sayesha' and how I almost lost my respiratory system. Preview pictures on Hopscotch.