Wednesday, September 30, 2009

60th Anniversary of PRC

China embarks on their 60th Anniversary with celebrations, which are likely to surpass the Beijing Olympic festivities, it´s in for some partying.

However security is at an all time high throughout the mainland, especially around the politically sensitive areas of Tibet and Xinjiang.

As part of the “celebrations, sees the latest Chinese propaganda movies, aimed at getting The Yuff interested in the “humble” beginnings of the Revolution.

With more than 170 A-list movie stars from China and Hong Kong, "The Founding of a Republic," is breaking box office records – raking in $33.8 million during its first 10 days in theatres.

But this is nothing like the products pumped out by Hollywood. Instead, it’s a propaganda film made by the state-owned China Film Group.

Launched to mark the 60th anniversary of the communist era, the 135-minute movie depicts Mao Zedong’s rise, tracking the 1945-49 war in which the Communist Party of China (the CPC) led by Mao and the National Democratic Party (the KMT) led by Chiang Kia-shek fought fiercely for power.

The lengthy cast list includes many of the top names in modern Chinese film, including martial arts stars Jackie Chan and Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Tiger," action movie director John Woo, among others. And most of the famous actors took little or no pay for their work – rather, considering it an honor to have just a few brief lines in the film.

Movies in China usually don’t sell a lot of tickets during the so-called "red season," the summer and early fall months that are dominated by national holidays ( July 1 is the Communist Party of China’s Founding Day, Aug. 1 is the People’s Liberation Army Day and Oct.1 is National Day). The films that are released are typically dull, mind-numbing propaganda films only viewed by students or government staff with free tickets.

But "The Founding of a Republic" seems to be an exception. The box office numbers are still skyrocketing the China Film Group says it expects the tally to pass $350 million within the next couple of weeks.

Huang Jianxin, one of the two directors of the big hit, proudly told NBC News that he believes a lot of younger movie goers were happy to buy tickets of their own accord (a ticket costs $5-10 in Beijing), not because they were told to, as was often the case with government-made propaganda films in the past. Huang acknowledged that the celebrity-packed cast was clearly a magnet for younger viewers, but added that the movie "would not attract them without a good story, no matter how many stars are in it."

There’s no question that the "The Founding of a Republic" is made in a refreshingly different way. Unlike other propaganda movies, which usually portray Mao’s Nationalist Party rivals as ruthless, cold-blooded, "counter revolutionaries," Chiang Kai-shek and his son are shown for the first time having down- to-earth father-son moments. And his officers also display a human side, even when they talk about assassinations.

The movie also contains a rare sight – a drunken Mao and a singing Zhou Enlai (the first premier of the People’s Republic of China). Still, Mao and his party, living in earthen huts and forced to save candle light for meetings, are always portrayed as righteous and invincible against the U.S.-backed, totally corrupt, Nationalist forces (who eventually lose and flee to Taiwan).

Zhang Lianjuan, an account associate at a multinational company, chose to go to the theatre as a small celebration right after her marriage registration, but she was disappointed by the film. "I don't have a special feeling for this movie, it merely went through a lot of history in two and half hours," she said. "The celebrities didn't give an outstanding performance in the movie at all."

But Zheng Yunfeng, a 30-year-old radio host in Beijing, thought it was a "well-balanced" movie. "It doesn't vilify the KMT [the Nationalist Party] as mainstream movies used to in the past. It objectively illustrates the real history – KMT had both corrupt and righteous moments at the time."

Still why would such a stellar cast take part in such a propagandistic project, and for such meager paychecks? Huang, the director, attributes it to a sense of patriotism ahead of the 60th anniversary of the founding of China.

"China’s 30 years of opening and reform has made China come back to the world stage," he said. "Fast economic growth and increasing state power has again brought back self-esteem [to the] Chinese people," said Huang.

However, he doesn’t stress the real powers behind the movie: the Central Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China and the State Administration of Radio Film and Television. The two government departments decide what’s allowed to be shown on TV, in movie theatres and in newspapers, and what books and movies are allowed to be imported into China.

Their efforts to create a blockbuster film to celebrate the Party’s 60 years in power have clearly been a big success.

Check out this excellent short video which tracks the use of propaganda in the Peoples´ Republic.

Editor adds: Spectacular show indeed, although spookily heavy on military hardware. So twentieth century. The following is a review by AFP

China today celebrated 60 years of communist rule with a military parade and lavish ceremonies on Beijing's Tiananmen Square showcasing the nation's revival as a global power.

Thousands of troops marched in tight formations, fighter jets overflew the city and the world's largest military unveiled its most sophisticated weaponry including new intercontinental ballistic missiles in a patriotic show of force.

President Hu Jintao extolled the Communist Party-led rebirth in a speech to the invitation-only crowd from Tiananmen gate, where Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic on October 1, 1949.

"The development and progress of the new China over the past 60 years fully proved that only socialism can save China, and only reform and opening up can ensure the development of China, socialism and Marxism,'' he told the crowd.

China typically holds grand celebrations every 10 years to commemorate Mao's announcement, but authorities promised that this year's festivities would top those staged in the past - and outdo last year's Olympic opening ceremony.

The government wants to send a clear message: that China, the world's third-largest economy, has re-emerged as a proud and undeniable global force.

Hu, in a high-collared Mao-style tunic, underlined this confidence in his speech before a Tiananmen Square festooned in the nation's red and yellow. "Today a socialist China that faces the future is standing tall and firm in the East,'' he declared.

An estimated 200,000 people took part in the lavish morning festivities, which unfolded under clear blue skies.

Flexing its growing muscle, China paraded long-range nuclear missiles capable of striking the heart of the United States and other homegrown weaponry signaling that a nation once bullied by foreign powers is a pushover no more.

The military show was followed by a colorful parade, with tens of thousands of people marching and singing in unison in a display of China's ability to harness its vast manpower on a massive scale.

Besides goose-stepping troops, squads of pink-clad women "volunteers'' dubbed the "iron roses'' marched in go-go boots, while thousands of other participants marched while waving flowing fans, pom-poms and bouquets of flowers.

National sports heroes such as hurdler Liu Xiang and former Olympic gymnastics champion Li Ning rode on one of dozens of brightly decorated floats.

Giant portraits of China's leaders from Mao to Hu were paraded past the square, which was filled with 80,000 children flipping hand-held cards spelling out messages such as "Socialism is Good'' and "Long Live China.''

Despite the burst of pride, official insecurity also has been clearly on display - authorities have imposed draconian security in a bid to prevent an array of perceived threats from spoiling the party.

These include seething tensions in ethnic minority regions such as Xinjiang and Tibet, and widespread social discontent over a widening wealth gap, official corruption and environmental degradation.

As a result, most of Beijing's 17 million citizens were relegated to watching the pageant in their hometown on television like the rest of China.

Lu Haishi, 23, travelled all the way from Shanghai to watch the festivities with friends - on TV. "I came for the atmosphere. We've rented a room to see the parade on television in a hotel near the route, to get the atmosphere,'' he said.

Police have for weeks stepped up security checks, cleared out beggars and the homeless, and ordered residents along the parade route not to open windows during the parade.

Even the city's airport shut for three hours during the parade and knife sales were banned in some stores after two recent stabbings near Tiananmen Square.

The Mao-led 1949 communist takeover ended years of foreign domination and war, while three decades of economic reforms initiated by late leader Deng Xiaoping enriched China and propelled it back into the ranks of world powers.

State media had said aircraft could release cloud-dispersal chemicals to prevent rain spoiling the festivities and skies were clear for the parade after light rain the night before.

It was not immediately clear if the fine weather was man-made,
but state media reported last year that authorities induced rain to wring out the clouds in the run-up to the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Helping Hand - Lha Charitable Trust

Whilst I have been doing volunteer work for Contact magazine as a photojournalist, as well as English teaching for Gu Chu Sum who work specifically for Tibetan political refugees, one large and popular organisation that require assistance is Lha Charitable Trust.

Founded in 1997, Lha (Tibetan for natural innate goodness) offer many options to those travellers that want to offer their services. Positions that regularly need Language teachers (especially English, French and Spanish), environmental and health care workers, massage and yoga teachers and computer teachers.

This charitable trust offer many free services to Tibetan refugees including language classes, computer courses and health and hygiene services. They also run for-pay services to foreign visitors which include Tibetan language and cooking classes, massage therapy and Reiki courses and cultural exchanges.

If you are not able to offer your time, Lha accept monetary donations and material aid.They will be inheriting many of my possessions on my departure from Dharamsala.

Lha are currently based in the upper section of Temple Road, but have begun to move their offices to the lower part of Temple Road near the junction of Jogiwara Road.

You can find out more information by visiting

Monday, September 28, 2009

World Cup 2010 Run In - Part One

Having put the finishing touches to the Methodology part of my thesis, I see the World Cup looming.

As part of the run-in i´ll be putting up a smattering of football-related postings.

It seems appropriate to begin with England´s recent qualification. Our Italian manager has managed to get England playing with greater confidence

Fabio Capello has his sights set firmly on the Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg next summer and the evening of Sunday, July 11; it is the date of the World Cup final and he expects his England team to be one if the participants.

Not since Alf Ramsey famously predicted that England would win the World Cup prior to 1966 has an England manager allowed himself such a bold boast. Asked what would constitute success for him next summer, Capello replied instantly: ‘To arrive at the final; to play the final.’

As for winning it, that can wait. ‘To play in it would be enough . . . for now,’ he added, breaking from his usual earnest demeanor into laughter.

"For now, playing in it will do, rather than winning it. But if people are asking me what my aspiration is, then it is to reach the final."

"I know the expectations will rise," added Capello. "Other people will help that, as well as our results [in qualifying].

"But that is the past now. It is nothing. For me and the players it is gone.
"Those eight games mean absolutely nothing now. I know all about England's history.
"But the most important thing when you go to the World Cup is the physical condition of the players. The best players have to be fit."

Capello, 63, is a former Italy international and would like to meet his native country in next year's final.

"I hope the final will be England versus Italy," he added.

"I always said I did not want to be Italy manager. My dream was to be here. This is the big challenge of my career."

For a man who is principally concerned with dampening down expectations after England’s spectacular 5-1 win over Croatia a few weeks ago, it was a bullish response and all the more startling as Capello is not given to exaggerating England’s hopes of ending what will be, by next July, a 44-year wait for a second World Cup.

"Playing in the final would be success," said Capello.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

An Eye and a Lens on McLeod Ganj

Most of the birds in McLeod Ganj I can recognize. The beautiful, if often noisy hawks, the playful common mynahs, and the inevitable ravens and crows.

Now I´ve seen this bird around many times before, but they are notoriously shy and difficult to shoot, tending to hide in the highest parts of the tallest trees and rarely perch for long. That tail is immense and they look most peculiar in flight.

Can anyone tell me the birds´ name?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

An Indo-American Love Story

Now i´m not known for being much of a romantic; indeed this is a man who married in a football stadium after all, but i thought this story was too cool to pass up.

I rarely take an auto-rickshaw if i can. Every trip taken involves aggravation. You can haggle for ages, sometimes down by 70% and you know they are still cheating you on the price. Despite the hassle, they can quite pleasant guys – maybe because they know they´ve just fleeced you.

I was thus quite intrigued to come across this story today.

AFP reports that
a 26-year-old American tourist travelling in India hitched a ride in a rickshaw last week and married the driver a few days later, a report said today.

Whitney from Chicago met her prince charming in Jaipur in Rajasthan, a state west of the capital famous for its stately palaces, after hailing a motorised rickshaw and hiring the driver for her stay in the city, the Mail Today newspaper said.

"On the third day, he surprised me by popping the question," Whitney told the paper. "'I want to spend the rest of my life with you', he told me. I fell in love."

After meeting last Saturday they were married on Wednesday in a simple ceremony. Whitney was pictured in the paper, standing with new husband Harish Hotala, wearing a traditional sari that covered her head.

The paper said Hotala was "a cabbie with a difference," however. "Though a school dropout, he is fluent in English and owns three auto-rickshaws," it said.

Whitney, whose surname wasn't given by the paper, is to fly back to the US on September 30 to face her parents.

"My father was surprised but my mother took it sportingly," she said.

Brilliant story! Although i still reckon i´m far more likely to throttle a rick-shaw driver than marry one.

Wonder why she doesn´t give her full name?

Editor Adds: A great update can be found by clicking here

Friday, September 25, 2009

LSD - a Treatment for Psychiatric Disorders?

I´ve been listening to a few more BBC Radio documentaries. A particularly interesting one was a review of the now dead British comic, Frankie Howerd.

It described how Howerd was prescribed LSD which led him to recollect his father´s physical abuse as a child – a claim that was hotly disputed by Frankie´s sister.

LJ (´coz he knows) informs me that LSD was a fairly common prescription for a myriad of psychological disorders. He points me in the direction of Hollywood legend, Bristol born Archibald Alexander Leach aka Cary Grant.

Cary Grant, who took LSD more than sixty times under the therapeutic auspices of Dr. Mortimer Hartmann and then Dr. Oscar Janiger, had this to say about his treatment in 1959:

"All my life, I've been searching for peace of mind. I'd explored yoga and hypnotism and made several attempts at mysticism. Nothing really seemed to give me what I wanted until this treatment."

"I have been born again. I have been through a psychiatric experience which has completely changed me. I was horrendous. I had to face things about myself which I never admitted, which I didn't know were there. Now I know that I hurt every woman I ever loved. I was an utter fake, a self-opinionated bore, a know-all who knew very little.

I found I was hiding behind all kinds of defenses, hypocrisies and vanities. I had to get rid of them layer by layer. The moment when your conscious meets your subconscious is a hell of a wrench. With me there came a day when I saw the light."


Thursday, September 24, 2009

One and Other - Callum: A Work of Art?

Ex-Nam Wa Poite, Big Ginger Callum is a lucky chappy. Not only is he probably the wealthiest of my friends, although in fairness I can count on one hand the number of well-off peeps I know, he spent an hour this morning on the empty fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square.

Wacky British artist and sculptor Antony Gormley set up the One and Other project whereby 2400 live “acts” would appear every hour for a 100 day period on the empty plinth. There have been over 34,110 applicants, one of which was Gormley himself. He failed to get an allotted stint.

Beginning on July 6th, I saw this exhibition first hand on my recent trip to UK and was totally impressed with the concept. It will run till the 14th October.

There is live webcam where I was able to spy his antics which ranged from a golf driving range, talking to Buds on his mobile, or just taking pictures of his audience and surround. Dressed up as an ass and standing there for an hour must be totally nuts! Good on ya Man!

After his hour on the plinth, Callum complains about a continual barrage of marshmallows thrown from a member of the audience. Can´t think why?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Karmapa Hip-Hop Lama

LJ comes up trumps again with this very interesting interview with the Karmapa Lama taken from the Times of India.

Labelled the Hip Hop Lama over his fondness for gangsta rap and violent video games, (both of which are touched upon in the interview), Karmapa, aged 24 is the head of the Black Hat sect, and he is a much loved and well-respected young man. His popularity with young Tibetans both first and second generation is huge. His unique position as the only high lama recognised by both Tibetans and Chinese, encourage the view that he is the ideal “successor” to His Holiness Dalai Lama.

Karmapa also boasts a large number of Lama-ites, Western women groupies aged from 20 – 45 who regularly head to his open blessing held at nearby Sidphur every Wednesday and Saturday. They come back giggling and showing off their latest blessed bangle.

This might not seem so strange after all. Sarah McDonald in her book Holy Cow claims that there are about 40 Tibetan monks each year defrock to take up a relationship with Western women.

This quest for the unattainable, comes as no surprise to me. Rich, Nygate and I set up a Celibate Society at Bristol Polytechnic in 1990. Talk about flies to the jam-pot- it was shocking and sometimes very entertaining!

Karmapa Lama´s snapshot now outsells pictures of the Dalai Lama in McLeod Ganj´s photo kiosks.

Clearly very shrewd and eloquent, he is sure to play a major part in the continued struggle for a free Tibet.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Diwali Celebrations

With Diwali coming up next month, so the festivity run-in begins.

Star World invite it´s viewers join them for a two hour special; a season premier of Desperate Housewives.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Glorious Glaciers from Space

I came across these stunning pictures via the twittering of Stephen Fry, the quintessential British raconteur, actor, writer, comedian, author, television presenter and film director.

In February 2009, he became the second-most-followed person on Twitter after Barack Obama.

On 16 May 2009, he celebrated the 500,000-follower mark: "Bless my soul 500k followers. And I love you all. Well, all except that silly one. And that's not you."[

Stephen Fry claims to hold the UK record for saying "fuck" the most times on a live television broadcast.

More of these stunning photos can be found by clicking on here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hello Kitty turns 35

Many thanks to ex-Nam Wa Poite, “Loud Shirt” Chip who kindly passed me this article from Weird Asia News.

Hello Kitty has always been big in Hong Kong. It freaks me out – no mouth and rabbit-like? Surely some kitty abomination of nature!

Thanks to the marketing skills of Japanese company Sanrio, Hello Kitty’s cute-cat character has been going strong for 35 years and has become an internationally-recognized brand. One of the most diverse and unpredictable places in the entire universe, the world of Hello Kitty encompasses a vast collection of strange products that dazzle the mind and serve as material for an extensive list of noteworthy weirdness.

Since there are thousands of Hello Kitty products in just about every category imaginable, it’s difficult to find the weirdest of the weird. Some of my favourites include the following. Which is your favourite?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Blessings for The King of Pop

Suresh Narayan never met Michael Jackson nor is he a die-hard fan but that did not stop him from offering 'pinda daan' or a Hindu ritual seeking salvation for the king of pop's soul in Bihar's holy town of Gaya.

"On Sunday I offered pinda daan for the salvation of Michael Jackson as a tribute to him," Narayan told IANS over telephone on Monday. He said the rituals were conducted by Hindu priest Swami Raghavachary. "I offered 'tarpan', a ritual, in the river Falgu for salvation of Michael Jackson's soul," he said.

Narayan, who is in his late 40s and lives in Gaya town, has been organising the ritual irrespective of the dead person's caste or religion for several years. "I have been conducting the rituals for the last eight years for the salvation of people with whom I do not have any relation, irrespective of caste, religion or creed," he said.

The small-time businessman turned social activist, who pays for the ritual out of his own pocket, believes it is his way of doing service to humanity. Thousands of Hindus from across India and abroad throng Gaya at this time during the 15-day 'Pitrapaksh' period to offer pinda daan for their ancestors on the banks of the Falgu river.

According to Hindu belief, a person's soul wanders after death until pinda daan is performed. In Gaya, the ritual is performed at the famed Vishnupad temple by the descendants of the dead and is conducted by priests called Gaywal-pandas.

In the past, Narayan has offered pinda daan for people who died in the terror attacks in Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad as well as victims of the Samjhauta Express blasts, He has also offered prayers for those killed in the 2004 tsunami, the Gujarat earthquake of 2001, the terrorist attack on Akshardham Temple in 2002 and the 9/11 terror attacks in the US.

He has also performed the ritual for US-based astronaut Kalpana Chawla, who died when space shuttle Columbia burnt up, for shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan and Mother Teresa. Legend has it that Lord Ram and his wife Sita performed this religious rite for his father Dasharath.

Pinda daan is traditionally offered by Hindus, but historical records available with priests show that some Muslims also performed the ritual in the past. According to official sources in the Gaya district administration, over 300,000 Hindu devotees have come to perform pinda daan in the first eight days of the fortnight. District authorities said they expect 400,000 devotees to arrive in Gaya to perform pinda daan during pitrapaksh

Friday, September 18, 2009

Obama Lets Tibetans Down

Now i´ve only rarely come across the Wall Street Journal, and was never overly impressed. However, again courtesy of LJ, this is a really good editorial. Good on ya´ WSJ! I think LJ has a lot of quality time at the moment.

The Obama Administration may think its decision to cold shoulder the Dalai Lama on the Tibetan leader's upcoming trip to Washington is smart politics. But if the leader of the free world doesn't stand up for religious freedom, who will?
The news broke earlier this week when an Obama aide told the Tibetans that the President wants to meet Chinese leaders before he meets the Dalai Lama. This is par for the course for an Administration that gave only lackluster support to Iran's democrats and has made conciliatory overtures to Putin's Russia and Kim Jong Il's North Korea.
But it's still a big departure from a significant and important tradition: President George Bush met the Dalai Lama every time the monk visited Washington; as did President Bill Clinton. The Tibetans hadn't formally scheduled a meeting with President Obama for next month, but the Dalai Lama had expressed his hope to meet the President on the trip.
Mr. Obama may be trying to smooth the waters after raising tariffs on Chinese tire imports Friday. Or he may think that a Tibet snub will buy him concessions from China when he visits Beijing in November. Or he may be simply caving to Chinese pressure not to have the meeting. China has bullied Australia, Germany, Canada and France in recent years for welcoming the man they label a "splittist."
By delaying his meeting with the Dalai Lama, Mr. Obama is only rewarding that choleric behavior and giving Beijing more leeway to protest whenever he does work up the nerve to meet the Dalai Lama. It also sends a message to other democracies that it's acceptable to cave to Chinese pressure.
Also missing from this picture is any understanding of why the Dalai Lama's cause is so important to both Chinese and U.S. interests. The Dalai Lama advocates the same human freedoms on which the U.S. was founded: Democracy and the right to exercise basic civil liberties, including freedom of worship. China won't be a stable and prosperous country until it respects these freedoms. And a peaceful China is in everyone's interests.
President Obama has been in office nearly eight months; that's twice as long as it took for Messrs. Bush or Clinton to meet the Dalai Lama. The Tibetans certainly understand what's going on: Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche said Tuesday that "a lot of nations are adopting a policy of appeasement" toward China "even the U.S. government." This is change we can believe in?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

An Eye and a Lens on McLeod Ganj

It was the last day of the Dalai Lama lessons for the Korean Buddhist delegation.
The village positively buzzes during HHDL teachings with streets packed with pilgrims, students, monks and of course, Indian beggars who descend in vast numbers to provide an opportunity to improve the karma of all these Buddhist – both Asian and International students.

I particularly liked this guy on the kora around Dalai Lama´s back garden. He was jovial and happy to pose after a “donation” of Rs7. He´s so happy he is clearly levitating, so I´m happy too.

A day of beautiful mountain sunshine, I took my study books (Robson´s Real World Research) up to roof-top café and sweated it out in my black shalwar kamiz. After a particularly hot mutton chilly, I couldn´t face sitting at my computer inside, so leisurely continued my reading on the veranda, in the company of some fresh mocha and a banana/chocolate muffin from the Tibetan bakery.

And then another gorgeous sunset.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Eating Spiders

Those Indians just keep making the record books. I got this story from the BBC, and it follows on nicely from my recent posting on the British expanding their eating habits abroad.

His passion is eating poisonous spiders, and he can finish almost 100 of them at a single go.

Raju Handique, a resident of Assam’s Jorhat district, has now set his eyes on achieving world record of eating 1000 venomous spiders!

“My dream is to have my name on the Guinness Book of World Records. I started eating spiders when I was in school. One day a spider bit me and out of anger I ate it up and to my surprise nothing happened to me.

“Since then I started eating spiders. From one spider I ‘graduated’ to eating eight then 35 and then 65 spiders. Today I can finish 100 of them. Now I’m preparing to eat 1000 spiders in a day,” said Raju, 30.

Raju’s keenness to achieve the world record is taking him to every nook and corner of his house, courtyard and trees to find eight-legged crawling creatures.

According to him, spiders can be, bitter, sweet and sometimes even taste like milk.

His quintessential spider-eating habit leaves his friends and family members sringing, but all of them have accepted his passion for netting the world record with spiders.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Selling Off the Wife

Following on from the suicidal farmers, ABC in Australia reports that drought-hit farmers in northern India are resorting to selling their wives to repay debts to local loan sharks, activists say, as one of the weakest monsoons in years takes its toll.

Poverty, poor administration and a lack of education means farmers in the rugged Bundelkhand region are taking extreme steps to pull through a poor rainy season, they say.

"This has been happening for quite some time now, but people were hesitant to come out with all this," said Manoj Kumar, a social activist working with farmers in the area.

Excluded from the formal banking sector, the poverty-stricken farmers often turn to usurious private money lenders when banks refuse them loans or even accounts.
After five years of poor crop yields and steadily decreasing rainfall, the crushing weight of the high interest payments has led to a well-documented spate of suicides and increasing cases of human-trafficking.

Another social worker, Shailendra Sagar, said the situation of farmers in Bundelkhand, a region that spans the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, was "pathetic."

"They are living in debt. Selling off one's wife or daughters is the last resort," he said.

The sale price for married women is hard to ascertain and their fate after being sold is equally difficult to follow.

Local reports have suggested wives can be pawned or sold for anything between one rupee to 12,000 rupees ($US240 dollars).

Some women are sold under the guise of a legal marriage, complete with a formal contract, but activists believe others end up being exploited by prostitution rings.
In the last four to five years around 50 per cent of the region's population has left Bundelkhand villages to find work in cities, and at least 500 farmers have committed suicide, according to various Indian media reports.

For India's 235 million farmers, a bad monsoon can spell financial disaster because of the lack of irrigation.

Low rains have ravaged India's rice, cane sugar and groundnut crops, and have disrupted the flow of water into the main reservoirs that are vital for hydropower generation and winter irrigation.

About 40 per cent of India's districts have declared a drought, and the India Meteorological Department (IMD) this week said the country faced a 20-percent annual rainfall deficiency, though that figure is expected to improve with recent patchy rains.

Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research in New Delhi, said research had identified Bundelkhand as one of the regions most vulnerable to sex trafficking.

"This region is famous for that. Even earlier such incidents have happened, it's not the first time," she said.

Some farmers are aware that they are selling their wives to prostitution rings, Ms Kumari added, but "they do it out of absolute desperation. They have absolutely no other alternative before them."

A government-funded scheme in which states are obliged to guarantee 100 days of paid employment per year to villagers has yet to be fully implemented in Bundelkhand.

"There are no specially dedicated schemes to develop these regions. If skill training was delivered, this whole situation would have been different in the past six decades," said Ms Kumari.

Shocking! But out of interest, how much do you think you could get for your spouse / partner?

Caught Out in the Monsoon

It looked bright and fairly clear yesterday morning, so i thought i´d do a quick kora around the Dalai Lama temple. Heading back to collect some eggs, the clouds descended and burst, with sheets of rain and hail. I took this short video footage on Jogiwara Road.

Monday, September 14, 2009

More Dalai Lama teachings and support from Obama

HHDL is giving a three day teaching at the main temple for a Buddhist delegation from Korea.

I only found this out by chance, as I visited the Main temple today and saw all the preliminary preparations.

With Contact Magazine out of service due to Lobsang´s illness, no press pass is available to me. Probably just as well as I still haven´t found a theoretical hanger for methodology part of my dissertation. Fortunately, I can generally pick up the English translation on FM radio.

You should be able to access these teachings yourself by clicking here.

Meanwhile, the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama today confirmed that discussions between the Dalai Lama and a senior US Government delegation took place in Dharamsala on September 13 and 14. The delegation was led by Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement, and included Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs (designated to serve concurrently as Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues) and other US Government officials.

According to a statement posted on the official website of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Ms. Jarrett personally conveyed the commitment of President Obama "to support the Tibetan people in protecting their distinct religious, linguistic, and cultural heritage and securing respect for their human rights and civil liberties" as well as the US President's commendation for the Dalai Lama's consistency in seeking genuine autonomy for Tibetans within the People's Republic of China through his middle way approach."

A senior aide within the Dalai Lama's office said: "Ms. Jarrett had expressed President Obama's wish for an enduring relationship with His Holiness and, additionally, for building a strong U.S.-China relationship. In this way the United States would be in a better position to seek progress in the dialogue, improvements in human rights and other improvements in the lives of Tibetans."
The statement also revealed that President Obama and the Dalai Lama would meet in Washington, DC, after the US-China Summit in November.

The same senior aide said, "Taking into considerations the broader issues, it was decided sometime ago that the meeting between His Holiness and President Obama should take place after President Obama's discussions in Beijing."
According to Lodi Gyari, Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, "His Holiness has shared with the US delegation his views about how the President can help the Tibetan people and he would value an opportunity to hear directly from the President about what transpired during the Beijing summit with regard to Tibet. I have the Dalai Lama's schedule for the remainder of the year and will work with the White House on a meeting date."

Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, the head of the Central Tibetan Administration, who also met with the US delegation, said, "This has been an important visit, as it demonstrates President Obama's great admiration for the leadership and approach of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and his respect for the Tibetan Buddhist culture. We are most appreciative that they have traveled so far to personally convey these messages to His Holiness and the Tibetan people."

Despite all the rhetoric from many Western Leaders, Tibet remains very much an unresolved issue. Without oil or other economic incentive, it continually remains on the back-burner.

Editor´s Addition: Many thanks to LJ for passing me this short but interesting link of the China Digital Times. Good to see PM in Exile Rinpoche taking a more aggressive stance.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

When a Legend Sells Out

I have been around a bit, seen many amazing places and done quite a lot of stuff.

One of the most memorable experiences was to kiss Iggy Pop at the Colston Hall in Bristol, SW England on the 11th June 1987. It was election night and that evil Thatcher figure secured her third (and final) Prime-ministerial ship.

The discovery of Stooges albums, Raw Power and Funhouse was a real eye-opener and I just loved he Bowie collaborations coming out of Berlin, The Idiot and Lust for Life. This guy is like a living legend.

Imagine my shock and horror therefore when standing on the platform at Oxford Street underground station was a poster of the L'Enfant terrible advertising motor-insurance. Hell! I later saw him appear in their television advertisement!

Now aged 62, the original punk-rocker has resorted to this???

I mentioned this demise to Boy who told me that he´d heard Swift motor-insurance don´t insure 62 year olds. A bit of research shows this isn´t true. However, Swift Cover does refuses to insure musicians.

The company specifically does not cover entertainment industry people saying:
The reason doesn't cover people in the 'entertainment business' is due to the risk of personal injury. That risk then becomes something for a specialist insurer to take on. chose Iggy Pop as the face of its advertising because he loves life, not because he is a musician. "He is an actor demonstrating the benefits of

According to a report, complaints object that it is "misleading because it uses a well-known figure from the music industry to promote an insurance service which they believe excludes musicians," according to an ASA spokesperson. As a result, the ASA has launched an investigation to determine whether the ad breaches the U.K.'s TV Advertising Code.

Swift´s £25 million ($36 million) car insurance ad campaign was launched in January.

As for that kiss? It was more of a peck on the cheek, with no tongues. I bet your bottom dollar that Iggy slut doesn´t remember it!

Has life been reduced to this?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Magic Sticks (or Hiking Poles if you prefer)

My Main Man on African adventures is Bubba who blogs over in Canada.

Having just come back from an overnight trip to Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, I was pleased that he also has become a hiking pole convert. My serendipity with sticks came from my Lang tang trek in Nepal last December.

Unshaven and out of Nepalese hiking practice, the stick grows magical powers. Despite the high elevations and rough terrain it gives me huge amounts of energy. I feel like Gandalf the Grey in this fairytale landscape.

In my recent travels through Lahaul and Spiti my stick came with me – not only a godsend, but an interesting prop for the locals.

a local with my "magic" stick

Bubba and I are in good company. In his book, “Like the Flowing River,” Paulo Coelho writes about his “first time with a stick”. A keen hiker, he was amazed at the benefits it reaped and quickly converted his wife to its powers. He googles his discovery where he finds that he has been using it “all wrong”. Now, like Coelho i reckon i´m probably doing it “all wrong,” but it´s only a stick and i don´t care – it helps...

Will i be bringing my Leki Makalu pole with me to Africa? With an ascent of Kilimanjaro not on the cards - probably not. This cat is travelling as light as possible.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hermaphrodites in Athletics?

You have to feel very sorry for poor Casta Semenya – the South African 800 metre World Womens Champion.

South African gold-medallist Semenya, 18, has both male and female organs, it was claimed.

And sources close to the International Association of Athletics Federations — who ordered extensive tests on the teen after her amazing 800m win at the World Athletics Championships last month — say the results mean she could still be stripped of her medal.

Semenya is claimed to have no womb or ovaries — and has internal testes, the male sexual organs which produce testosterone.

The row over Semenya's biology has caused huge divisions — with South African politicians calling slurs she is a man "racist and sexist." Her birth certificate has the teen listed as female and urine tests showed that, despite her having higher than average male hormone levels, they are within the official limits for a woman.

But an IAAF source was today quoted as saying: "There certainly is evidence now that Semenya is a hermaphrodite.

IAAF spokesman Nick Davies was not immediately available to comment on the story.
The organisation confirmed this morning that it had received the test results back and was processing the data.

Semenya was ordered to take tests straight after her 800 metres gold at the World Championships in Berlin.

The athlete received a heroine's welcome when she arrived back home in South Africa following the backlash.

And Semenya's family have slammed the claims, saying: "It is God who made her look that way but she IS a girl."

The runner was last week given a make-over by YOU magazine — and called the row over her gender "a joke" as she posed in make-up and a dress.

South Africa's athletics chiefs this evening said they stood by her amid the claims.
Athletics South Africa president Leonard Chuene said the organisation would advise the teenager to ignore all media speculation until she had been officially informed of the results of the tests.

He said: "We are ignoring these claims. We cannot comment on them as we know nothing about them. We will wait for the due process to be followed. The authorities have made a statement to say we will be informed about the results and we await that development. We cannot get involved in gossip of this sort. Our people will speak to Caster this evening and ensure that she puts these rumours from her mind. She is at university at the moment. She must concentrate on her studies. We stand fully behind her as our athlete."

Semenya's family also angrily disputed the claims.

The athlete's uncle Lesiba Rammabi, 51, said her relatives were 'very humiliated' by the reports.

He said: "I believe Caster is normal, inside and out. What does it matter whether she can have babies or not? Many people cannot have children, why else do parents adopt? Are those women not women also? We are a normal family who looked at a child when she was born, saw that she was a girl and raised her as any other family would do. Are we now being told that we are wrong? We are very humiliated by what has been said and do not understand how it can be true. This is a woman who was raised a female. She will always be female, no matter what people say."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

To Squat or Not?

a typical Spitian Squat Job!

I´m regularly asked if i have a sit-down toilet in the apartment. It´s true I do – but squatting just seems a much more natural evacuation posture and i always shit better in a hovering position.

The down-side of squats really occurs over its hygienic state. I´ve encountered some seriously unpleasant ones on my many back-packing journeys throughout Asia.

But is there anything better than shitting in the woods? I had some of my best experiences trekking in Nepal last Christmas. It´s a surreal experience to be squatting in front of a moon-lit scenic Himalayan mountain landscape. After all that dal bhat has got to be expelled somewhere. Just make sure you "leave it as you find it" and tidy up after yourself.

The only time i appreciate the sit-down variety is when I have a rare virus attack. I guess i appreciate the distance put between myself and my excrement.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

England, Africa and the World Cup 2010

I´ve spent the last 45 minutes listening to the first half of the England versus Croatia World Cup Qualifier. Two years ago, a somewhat stronger Croatian team knocked England out of the European Championship, but England seem to have sought revenge and are already two goals to the good.

A victory or even a draw will confirm England´s place in the World Cup in South Africa in June 2010.

My prize to myself on completion of my dissertation will be to travel over-land from Israel, through Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique down to South Africa in time for the tournament. Now how cool is that?

Whatever you might think of football (soccer), the World Cup is an international extravaganza. Africa is the last continent i have yet to visit and i have now found the perfect excuse.

England have a good squad and should be capable to get to the quarter finals, if not semi finals. Watch them implode at any penalty shoot-out.

Ed. Addition: England go on to win the match comprehensively 5 - 1.

The sporting headlines in Britain´s tabloid newspapers go nuts this morning. Check these out: -

Bok of the net! (Daily Mirror) - Brilliant!
3 Lions in Africa (Daily Mirror)- mmmm
Get de beers in (The Sun)- only The Sun!
Ooh-aah Africa! (The Sun)- my personal favourite!
We can win it (Daily Express) - yeah...right!
Watch out world (Daily Star) - tee hee
World class (Daily Mail) - I´m sure Brazil are quaking in their nikes!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Excellent Eggs

I´m a bit of an egg fan. They are pretty much part of my daily diet, usually in the form of an egg mayonnaise sandwich for breakfast.

I get my eggs from a nearby stall on the Jogiwara Road and I buy 30 at a time for Rs75 (just under GBP1). They´re alright and consistently the best in the village, but like all Indian eggs, the yolks are a very subtle shade of a very weak yellow. This is the case whether here in Dharamsala or the metropolis of Delhi. I guess life for chickens in India is particularly traumatic.

Part of my Mum´s spoiling campaign on my recent trip to UK was to initiate me into the delights of Clarence Court eggs. These are like the Rolls Royce of the egg world.

Indeed these chickens seem to be treated accordingly with a comprehensive ethics policy which is not dissimilar to the Bill Of Rights. Enough to put any 40+ year old white South African to shame.

Like all Rolls Royce however, they don´t come cheaply. GBP1.80 will get you six from Waitrose supermarket (if they are in stock – they sell more like the proverbial hot cakes!).

Clarence Court specialise in old traditional pedigree breeds, related more closely to the original jungle fowl than the commercial hybrids used in battery farming techniques.

The yolks are an amazing fluorescent golden orange and are totally delicious, especially when scrambled daily by mum daily, with accompanying smoked salmon and cheese croissants. Now that´s spoilt!

You can check out the chickens on their webcam by clicking here.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Lost World in Papua New Guinea

Mount Bosavi

Stunned scientists have found a lost world of undiscovered animals.

New creatures have been unearthed in Papua New Guinea including frogs with fangs and one of the world's biggest rats, and its woolly!

Provisionally named the Bosavi woolly rat, it is thought to live only in the crater and nowhere else in the world.

The cat-size rodent measures 32ins from nose to tail and weighs 3lbs. On an expedition to the unexplored rainforest in the Pacific island, scientists found more than 40 new species - including 16 frogs, three fish and a bat.

Dr McGavin said the vegetarian rat was incredibly tame: "It just sat next to me nibbling on a piece of leaf. It won't have seen a human before. The crater of Bosavi really is the lost world."

The animal has a silver-brown coat of long, thick fur that probably helps it to survive the wet, cold winters inside the 1,000m high crater walls.

It is thought to belong to the rodent genus Mallomys, which contains other out-sized rat species including another giant woolly rat found in the Foja Mountains of Papua New Guinea by an expedition led by Conservation International in 2007.

The scientists and camera crew were roaming around a kilometre-deep crater of Mount Bosavi and the surrounding jungle. The land has been virtually untouched since the volcano erupted 200,000 years ago, allowing the species to evolve away from humans.
A team including experts from London Zoo and Oxford University are thought to be the first people to enter the crater.

Expedition leader Dr George McGavin said: "It was mind-blowing to be there. It is time we pulled our fingers out and decided these habitats are worth saving."

Naturalist Steve Backshall added: "These discoveries are really significant. The world is getting smaller and it is getting very hard to find places that are so far off the beaten track."

The documentary is being shown on BBC TV.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

An Eye and a Lens on McLeod Ganj

Alright I cheated today. Today´s photo was taken from the balcony at about 10am.

Although the weather was beautiful this morning, I was putting together the final draft of my Literature Review paper. It´s been a struggle, but it should put me in good stead for the final dissertation.

It clouded over this afternoon, but tonight the cloud has lifted yet again. Despite the bright moon, the stars are plentiful. It´s a bit cold out, but i take my hot chocolate and watch them twinkle with the mountain backdrop.

Keeping me company on my MP3 player is Kristin Hersh. We go back a long way and Speedbath, a recent MP3 album release, makes for some real magic moments.

is available for download by clicking here.

Kristin´s discography as a solo artist and her band, Throwing Muses, is immense. Solo classics include Hips and Makers and The Grotto or check out the wild Muses release, House Tornado.

Hersh is an exceptionally gifted musician and poet.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Over the course of recent years, my mother has become more socially and politically conscious. Her latest fad is Professor Richard Dawkins, a positivist, scientist and lecturer at Oxford University, and author of “The God Delusion.”

As a committed atheist of many years and aware of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution since primary school, I cannot see why there has been such a fuss made of his work.

My mother however comes from a religious Jewish background and thus his “revelations” have caused her to question her fundamental belief system. Her ideas of creationism and a belief in Yahweh have been completely eradicated, and she is now on a mission to convert all the family and friends to atheism, causing some anxiety in the process. After all, faith and reason are polar opposites with surely only one winner?

Hong Kong Kev passed me a copy of “The God Delusion” and during my time in UK we were watching some of “The Richard Dawkins Collection” on DVD.

I do like his somewhat more feisty interviews and attacks on the religious and “alternative healers” (assisted by those outrageous eyebrows of his), and makes for interesting TV. You often wish he´d push a little further.

I found it quite interesting however that Dawkins´ use of language is very similar to those of the lessons I have attended by the Dalai Lama. After all, Buddhism is all about finding the truth, HHDL is well known for his scientific approach.

To be honest, I don´t see what all the fuss is about. Apart from the fact that Dawkins, an Oxford don, has got his own TV series. Darwinism is pretty well-cemented on school curricular around the World. Let people draw their own conclusions.

Editor´s Addition: Ma would like to add the following statement:
I should also mention that I haven’t tried to convert the rest of the family to atheism because, just like everybody else, I don’t know the real truth. However, I do think Dawkins is very logical and I go along with what he says, but I would stress that I am still very “Jewish” and in fact just as he describes himself as a Cultural Christian, I would describe myself as a Cultural (or ethical) Jew! All the Jewish codes of practice and different festivals are still very important to me (as I hope they are to you) and I would always stand up and be counted.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Hippy and Israeli Invasion

The electricity cut out about 2am this morning as i was trying to redraft my Educational Review paper. I went out to the balcony for a well-deserved smoke and Options hot chocolate. It was really quiet (rare to have no dogs barking), really dark and really clear – so peaceful looking out over the snow-capped mountains in the moonlight. I remember why i am living here.

The weather was clear again this morning, and being such a rare opportunity, i put my dissertation on hold and decided to hike across to Bhagsu, a few kms out of McLeod Ganj. Taking advantage of the change in the weather there are plenty of travellists on the road, predominantly Israeli and/or hippy.

This is not too unusual at this time of year and by November the "International" population will have disseminated across India and other popular Asian outposts.

I came across this article by Saransh Sehgal entitled Moshav in the Himalayas - Israelis' Indian Mecca. Saransh writes about Tibetan Affairs and Dharamsala for Asia Times Online, Asia Sentinel and

It takes just 50 rupees and a 10-minute auto-rickshaw ride to reach Tel Aviv from Lhasa. At least, that is, ‘mini-Tel Aviv,’ otherwise known as Dharamkot and Bhagsu, an Israeli backpacking mecca in the Dhauladhar mountains of Northern India.

In Dharamsala, the de-facto capital of Tibetans in exile, maroon-robed chanting monks perform their daily routines surrounded by Tibetan prayer flags. Best known of Dharamsala’s suburbs is McLeod Ganj, or Little-Lhasa, where most Tibetans live in crowded streets and where the Dalai Lama has his residence just opposite the Tsuglag Khang, or central cathedral. The town throngs with small Tibetan-run cafés and bustles with activity and volunteers teaching young students and monks courses on Buddhism. Monks and nuns outnumber tourists, performing hunger strikes on every major holiday, in the hope that the world will do something for their cause.

Just a few miles north lie Dharamkot and Bhagsu. These two tiny villages, set in the verdant Kangra valley, look like any other Indian hill village but are known collectively as mini-Tel Aviv. It’s almost impossible to find them on tourist maps. Even for Indians it’s tricky to locate the names on official regional maps, but to hundreds of Israeli backpackers it’s an easy task to find the way. Once there, tourists are greeted by a hand-written sign wishing them “Shalom.” For in these villages, connected by a trail through the fields, they will make a bayit (“home”) where they can find shanti (“peace”).

Between spring and fall every year it’s not just these tiny Himalayan villages that turn Israeli. Also, 50,000 Israelis come to India each year, looking for freedom after the army service, a good time and some even for spirituality, but this rite of tiyul is experienced tribally. They arrive together, travel to the same places and experience India mainly through other Israelis.

Dharamkot and Bhagsu have a combined Hindu population of about 1,200. During the season, the Israelis in the area at any one time number about 1,800. Middle-aged parents often join their backpacking children, while some Israelis bring along their whole family, including young children, who happily skip a semester of school to stay in homestays and guesthouses for just $2-$6 a night. It is common to hear more Hebrew than the local Gaddi dialect and the payphone booths have clocks displaying the time in Tel Aviv.

Signs and menus in all shops and guesthouses are written in Hebrew, keyboards in Internet cafes have Hebrew letters, restaurant menus include hummus and Israeli salad, and shopkeepers try to speak in bits of Israeli slang they have picked up from the customers. When not sitting around drinking chai and chatting, many visitors enroll in yoga and meditation retreats, ayurvedic healing, massage courses and a whole range of different spiritual practices.

The Israeli presence is so pervasive that every storefront sports a hand-painted sign in Hebrew. Even rickshaw drivers who probably can’t read their own language know many Hebrew phrases and readily recite the names of Israeli TV stars.
A few of the Israelis stay. Some who came here five to 10 years ago have now settled down in these villages, some even marrying locals to extend their stay and run cafés. These Israeli settlers’ supposed interest in Indian spirituality is reflected in conversation among the backpackers, but not in action. When it comes down to it, many of them are lot more interested in trance parties and smoking drugs than in spiritual practices.

In recent years, many families in the village have converted their farming plots into guesthouses for Israelis: A prosperous side business, managed mostly by teenagers. Staffed by Nepalis, restaurants and Internet cafés have also sprung up along the main path where you can even find tattoo and piercing parlors that sell under-the-counter drug paraphernalia. “I’ll stay in India as long as I can, until my visa runs out… I never want to leave here,” said Chavi Chamish, 25, an Israeli backpacker walking along the paddy fields in the village.

In the center of both the villages dominating the green surroundings, are the Chabad Houses, with huge yellow Mashiach flags. Dozens of Israeli backpackers visit every Shabbat to ask those questions about life and Judaism they never would have asked at home. The Chabad’s mission is to seize the relative openness and free time of the Israeli travelers in India and draw them closer to Judaism. Most notably, this mission includes an open invitation on Rosh Hashanah in response to which, a year ago, 800 Israeli backpackers flocked to Dharamkot for services and a festive dinner.
Even during the peak season, though, world events can cast a shadow in this remote corner of Asia. In January, the military incursion into Gaza emptied the villages of their Israeli tourists, turning them into ghost towns. But things returned to normal as the fighting ended. And with the ceasefire came another Israeli spring in Dharamkot.

The article also promotes “Hummus Curry” - a new documentary by Yoni Zigler and Noam Pinchas. It follow three residents of Bhagsu to juxtapose Israeli and Indian cultures, showing Israeli culture through Himalayan eyes. Should be interesting!

To see a trailer of “Hummus Curry” or a slideshow of images from Dharamkot and Bhagsu go to Arts & Culture at

Thursday, September 3, 2009

First Snows of the Season

Taken with my Nikon D200 with 300mm lens from the balcony

After yet another rainy day, the weather cleared ever so briefly to reveal the first snows of the season on the nearby mountain peaks. Looking back at the blog last year this didn´t occur until 6th September.

The continuous wet weather means the ubiquitous “supplies” runs become challenging, although it has done wonders for my dissertation writing.

For background noise, without which i find it difficult to work, I have been alternating between BBC Radio 4, a selection of BBC Radio 2 documentaries (which have included an excellent piece on Miles Davis and some Beatles stuff) and my new “hi-fi” which I have rigged up.

Consisting of my old and slowly dying Zen Creative MP3 player to a pair of Creative Travelsound speakers through the mains, the sound quality is really quite good considering.

With 40GB of Aubreyesque eclectic sounds, I´m well sorted for the next few months.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Exotic Delicacies for Brits

Diana Black reports in Siversurfer Today that the days of British holiday makers seeking full English breakfasts on their travels are waning as we instead embrace local delicacies, a survey by TripAdvisor has revealed.

Now only 2% stick to familiar dishes when dining on holiday, while an overwhelming 86% rarely or never eat at fast food chains on their travels.

Meanwhile, 46% maintain they are culinary adventurers and willing to try most foods, including shark-fin soup (56%) – a popular delicacy in China, and guinea pig (40%), eaten in Peru.

A further 35% would happily tuck in to deep-fried grasshoppers in Thailand, while 77% would eat kangaroo in Australia. One in two travellers would sample snake in Cambodia, while 30% would eat camel humps – a dish becoming increasingly popular throughout the Middle East and Asia.

TripAdvisor's Amelie Hurst, said: "British holiday makers are increasingly seeking authentic travel experiences and for many, sampling local delicacies is an easy way to tap in to a culture. Some of our members’ more unusual culinary experiences include fish porridge, wasabi ice cream and fried ants – and whilst these may not to be everyone’s tastes, they certainly make for a great dinner party conversation!"

I can boast eating dog on several occasions both in Thailand and The Philippines (indeed I broke 7 years of vegetarianism on a doggie barbecue, but that´s another posting!). I´ve sampled the Australian delights of kangaroo (like a light more gamey beef), emu (dry and not to my tastes) and crocodile (fishy). However LJ is right out there.

LJ is infamous for his culinary palate. Happy to boast about a particularly appetising puppy stew he enjoyed in Shenzhen, fried maggots and guinea pigs are nothing to him – the more exotic, the better. Keep this man away from giant pandas and snow leopard.

I´ll try and dig up a classic photo that i took of him tucking into a cute guinea pig in Cuzco. Sick!

Ed. Note: Drats! Can´t find the photo and LJ can´t (or won´t) track it down.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

An Eye and Lens on McLeod Ganj

“An American in Dharamsala” was a blog from Angie, a professional writer who was based here last year teaching Tibetans. This is an excellent reflection on a blog i wrote back in March on eccentrics in Mcleod Ganj.

Angie writes "this is the Man in the Box. Yes, he lives in a metal box. He hardly ever moves from the box, although I've found him down the street by the bus stand, crouching on his haunches with a pile of vomit in front of him. He was wearing a piece of plastic as a poncho though it wasn't raining. Sometimes he smokes bidis in his metal box, and I've heard that if women get too close, he will grab their asses.

But what's sad about his story is that it is not him alone. He is not merely homeless and mentally ill. He is "taken care of" by relatives who run a restaurant across the street from where he lives. They give him food and, as pictured, coffee.

The fact that he is not better taken care of drives me crazy. I will never go to that restaurant; I will never support the business of people who will not take better care of their relative. (And I realize that the society in India, particularly Himachal Pradesh, does not have "nursing homes" the way we do in America, but I do believe there has to be something more than can be done for this man.)

The last time I saw the Man in the Box, he was humming to himself. Humming, like any other man, to pass the time."