Thursday, April 30, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
My former colleague Edward Hasbrouck was kind enough to allow to me guest-blog about The Amazing Race this week. You can read that on his website, The Practical Nomad, by clicking here.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Maybe the locals don't notice these things, but the Doctor and Future Mrs. Logistics have been in awe of how many of the Indian Olympians are named Kumar, specifically boxers and wrestlers. I realize that it's a popular name here, but India had 3 medal hopefuls in boxing (Akhil, Jitender and Vijender) and not only are they all named Kumar, but they all train at the Bhiwani Boxing Club. And they're not related.
There were two Kumars who won yesterday. Wrestler Sushil Kumar (arguably the most under-appreciated of all of the Kumars) took home bronze in the Men's Freestyle 66kg event. Boxer Vijender Kumar, competing in the middleweight division, won his quarterfinal match, ensuring him at least a bronze with gold and silver still a possibility. This means that India will win at least 3 medals in Beijing, its highest Olympic total ever. Keep in mind that this is a country of over a billion people.
Although Vijender was the most succesful of all of the Kumars coming in to the Olympics, much of the country (as well as international visitors such as myself) had recently beome obsessed with charismatic bantamweight boxer Akhil Kumar, who had beaten world champion Sergey Vodapyanov of Russia in the Round of 16. Unfortunately Akhil lost in the quarterfinals, devastating not only myself and a billion of his Indian countrymen, but also his teammates including Vijender Kumar who described him as India's Rocky Balboa and promised to avenge his loss, which he did.
Flyweight boxer Jitender Kumar (not to be confused with middleweight boxer Jitender Kumar), also lost in the quarterfinals yesterday. Jitender consoled himself by heading out to White Castle with his Korean friend Harold.
As an admitted sufferer of Kumar-mania, what I've found most enthralling about them is that boxing and wrestling are totally accessible sports. While I do tip my hat to India's first and only (for now) gold medal winner Abhinav Bindra, he's a privileged rich kid whose dad built him a high-tech shooting range in their backyard. That's not something that most aspiring young Indian athletes, or even American or European kids for that matter, can expect. Abhinav's father is a wealthy businessman and Abhinav himself holds an MBA degree. Both Sushil and Vijender's fathers are bus drivers. Sushil had to share a mattress with another wrestler (in a room with 20 other wrestlers, not to mention rats and cockroaches) while training for the games. All of the Kumars come from much more humble upbringings and are thus arguably a greater source of inspiration not only to their countrymen, but also to athletes from developing countries around the world.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
The big news during our first few days in India has been Abhinav Bindra, who won the first individual gold medal in India's history, and its first gold medal of any kind since its field hockey team last claimed gold in Moscow in 1980. Although cricket is now the country's biggest sporting passion, field hockey (or simply hockey as its known here, since there isn't any ice) was top dog for decades. In fact the Indian Olympic hockey team was somewhat of the equivalent of the old US Olympic basketball or Soviet ice hockey teams, winning 6 consecutive gold medals and going undefeated from 1928-1956.
Bindra took gold in the mens 10M air rifle (ie: BB gun) on Monday, and the country has been going crazy every day since. Every single Indian TV station had "Breaking News!" banners about Bindra's achievement on Monday and the locals are simply beaming with pride. Now everybody wants a piece of the Bindra Bonanza. The Indian State Railway (the world's largest employer for all you trivia buffs out there) has given him a "golden pass" allowing him free 1st class rail travel for life. He is being congratulated by legendary Bollywood superstars including Amitabh Khan, perhaps best known to younger audiences for being the original host of India's most popular game show, Kaun Banega Corepati. Still no word yet on whether or not Shahrukh Khan, Bollywood's biggest star and successor to Amitabh as host of KBC, has also sent along his praises.
I'd be lying if i said that my blogging about Bindra wasn't in some way an effort to draw traffic to this site, but I'm certainly not the only one as the LA Times jumped on that opportunity almost immediately after Bindra hit the medal stand.
Although he's somewhat soft-spoken on camera, I will say that Bindra's own blog makes for entertaining reading. However, I'll concede that I haven't been nearly as taken with Abhinav Bindra himself as I have with his adorably proud parents. His mother is already very busy looking for a bride for India's most eligible bachelor, as well as getting ready to cook him a home-cooked meal of tandoori chicken and seekh kabab. Glad to see that Abhinav and I share a fondness for Indian barbecue, as well as a mother who wants nothing more than to feed us and see us get married. It also appears that Abhinav didn't inherit his calm demeanor from either parent, as his boisterous (yet super cool) father is more than happy to tell all who will listen about the ultra high-tech shooting range that he built for him in their backyard (see below), or about how he used to let his son shoot water balloons off of their maid's head when he was only 7 years old.
We finally made it to Hyderabad late on Sunday night, or very early Monday morning to be exact, arriving at the sparkling new Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (Shamshabad). In one word: WOW!
Being in the travel business and having worked specifically a lot with the Indian market I had been hearing about this new airport for a while, as well as the one which recently opened in Bangalore that we're flying out of next week. I vividly remember flying in to Mumbai (Bombay) ten years ago and thinking to myself "I can't believe this is the richest city in the country" because the airport was an absolute shit hole. I had also flown in and out of a few other Indian airports including Goa, Cochin and Chennai (Madras), all of which were nicer than Mumbai but nothing spectacular.
Shamshabad is spectacular. Seriously.
It's not quite as grand as Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur, but it is incredibly clean, bright, modern and efficient. And I don't just mean efficient by Indian standards, I mean actually efficient. My first words to The Future Mrs. Logistics as we walked in to the terminal were "For all we know we could be in Zurich right now." The Future Mrs. Logistics was even more impressed, having flown in and out of the old crappy airport over a dozen times during her 7 months working here, to the point where she was almost in a state of shock.
We should have suspected that the times they were a-changin' when we landed, as all of the Indian passengers actually stayed in their seats until we reached the gate. This NEVER happens on flights to/within India.
Apparently the old airport only had one immigration booth, and Indian passengers had an annoying habit of waiting until they got to the booth before filling out their immigration cards. According to The Future Mrs. Logistics getting through immigration at the old airport was at least a one hour process. Well the first promising sign at Shamshabad was when we saw other passengers filling out their cards at desks before they got to the booths. And yes, there's now more than one immigration booth. In fact there were at least 20 of them, and even more impressive was the fact that every single one of them was staffed and being used. In contrast I remember flying through Charles de Gaulle right after 9/11 where they had at least 100 immigration booths with no more than 15-20 of them actually being used. In addition to being questionable for security, it also struck me as odd that such a socialist country such as France couldn't fill up the rest of those booths with civil servants given the country's high unemployment rate.
But I digress...
My booth was staffed by some pussy wearing a ski mask and heavy coat who apparently couldn't handle the chilly 68 degree temperatures of the airport. He was also one of those guys who felt the need to look at every single page of my passport because that's the type of thing that makes him feel important. Regardless it was still a pretty quick process.
What impressed us the most was might be the world's most technologically advanced baggage carousel, which featured some sort of laser sensor from the future that used a coordinated time-delay-response-mechanism-thing to prevent new luggage from falling on to bags that were already on the carousel. The Future Mrs. Logistics was speechless (something The Doctor always appreciates).
But what struck me most was just how beaming with pride everyone was at the airport. Although it's been open for 5 months the novelty has clearly not worn off yet, and likely won't anytime soon. The locals are clearly conscience of this achievement as it represents all that modern India is capable of. Bangalore also has a new airport which also opened this year. We're flying out of there next week so I'm looking forward to seeing how it stacks up to Hyderabad.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
The Doctor almost forgot to mention his delicious dinner at The Gulai House, a restaurant located at the Carcosa Seri Negara in Kuala Lumpur.
We had an extremely friendly and inquisitive waiter who wanted to know all about us, like where we were from (San Francisco), were we enjoying Malaysia (yes), did we like sports (yes), did we like soccer (yes), is there a soccer team in San Francisco (close - in San Jose), what other sports did we like (baseball), did we like the New York Yankees (HELLS NO, ASS HOLE!), why didn't we like the New York Yankees (because we're from Boston), what is the nickname of the Boston baseball team (the Red Sox), and so on and so on. The conversation then switched to movies.
"Do you like Rob Schneider?" he asked.
"Excuse me?" I asked.
"Rob Schneider. He is very funny. He is my favorite movie star."
Both The Doctor as well as The Future Mrs. Logistics were caught somewhat off-guard by the reference to Rob Schneider as a "movie star" as well as the concept that he could actually be someone's favorite movie star. Now Adam Sandler I could possibly understand, but Rob Schneider?
As The Future Mrs. Logistics was at a total loss for words I replied with the only thing that I could think of, "He's from San Francisco."
"Oh really? He is so funny. Have you seen the one where he plays an animal?"
"Have you seen the one where he turns in to a woman?"
"The Hot Chick?"
"What about the one where he plays..."
"Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo?"
"Oh, that is one of my favorites."
The greatest tragedy is that this poor guy has probably never seen Mr. Schneider's finest work as The Richmeister (aka: Makin' Copies) on Saturday Night Live. The McStingster! Stingatola! Sting! Stingalingaling ding dong!
And of course there's his supporting role in one of the funniest SNL skits off all time: Ed Glosser, Trivial Psychic. With all due respect to the uber-popular "More Cowbell" sketch, The Doctor believes that this was the finest of Christopher Walken's many appearances on the show.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Before this trip I had been to Kuala Lumpur twice before. The first time was just in transit for a few hours en route from Madras to Bangkok, and the second was two days for business back when I used to work at Airtreks.
On both trips The Doctor was extremely impressed with Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), which may be the best in the world. Hong Kong still gets high marks, and while both are extremely functional The Doctor gives KL a slight edge for design and aesthetics. It's bright, open and airy with a decent amount of greenery within the terminal. The Doctor does appreciate style as well as substance, and that's another reason KL gets the nod over Singapore's Changi Airport. While Changi does feature some nice amenities like a pool, it also has low ceilings and just this weird 70's jetset vibe that's in dire need of an update.
On the monorail from the gate to the main terminal both The Doctor as well as The Future Mrs. Logistics commented on the fact that it felt like Florida. The scenery, the modern highways, the fact that we were on a monorail, etc.
KLIA is a good 25-30 miles outside of the city, a distance that can take over an hour to cover in typical Southeast Asian traffic. Luckily the Malaysians, the masters of logistics that they are, have built a convenient high speed train connecting the airport to downtown which takes exactly 28 minutes. Not half an hour mind you, but 28 minutes. All of the locals seem to know this fact and are proud to share it with you.
We got our bags rather quickly (more props for KLIA) and then went to buy our tickets for the KL Ekspres to downtown. The local language, Bahasa Malaysia (which literally translates to "language of Malaysia") is, like Bahasa Indonesia (wanna take a guess on that translation) actually a modern hybrid of many local regional dialects. Many words are simply imported from European languages such as Dutch (such as kantor, which means office) or English, such as ekspres. So when you hop on the KL Ekspres from KLIA it takes you to KL Sentral Steten. And when you have luggage the KL Ekspres to KL Sentral Steten is fare more convenient than riding your motorsaikal.
What was even more convenient was the "VIP" service that was offered, which includes porter service of your luggage from the baggage claim to the Ekspres all the way to Sentral Steten and then "limousine" transfer to your downtown hotel. In other countries "limousine" often just means a nice car, not necessarily a stretch Cadillac. I believe that our limousine turned out to be a Hyundai, although I'm not complaining.
Anyway the VIP service only cost us about $15 apiece, whereas taking the Ekspres and then finding a cab on our own would've cost just over $10, so it was well worth it. I don't think that we had to carry our bags more than 10 feet from the carousel before the porter took them, and it saved us the hassle of dealing with Malaysia's questionably honest taxi drivers with whom we would unfortunately have to deal with later. Sidenote: The Doctor learned long ago to never judge a country by its cab drivers, so he holds no grudges against Malaysia for this.
We were quite pleased when the Hyundai pulled in to the new and stylish Hotel Maya. One of the reasons that we had chosen KL as our stopover instead of Bangkok or Singapore is because it has several luxury hotels that can often be booked for $100-150/night. Well whether it was because of the falling US dollar or for some other reasons, most of those hotels were a lot more expensive this past weekend. Luckily I stumbled across the Maya, a typical cookie-cutter luxury boutique hotel a la the W (which is not necessarily a bad thing) where the rate was just over $100.
Being just a block away from the iconic Petronas Towers we requested a room with a view and were obliged with a corner room on the 21st floor (out of a possible 22 floors), although it did take over half an hour for them to give us any room at all (despite the fact that we arrived after the official check-in time and had a reservation.)
As we were walking down the hallway towards our room we started to hear some really loud construction noise that seemed to be coming from the 22nd floor, and when we walked in to our room it was pretty obvious that there was construction taking place on the 22nd floor - specifically in the room right above us. I can't tell exactly what they were doing, but damn was it loud. REALLY LOUD. We were pretty shocked that they would even consider giving us that room, so we called down to the front desk...which was fruitless because they couldn't even hear us with all of the background noise. So we went downstairs and asked for another room which we accepted...until we realized it was on the smoking floor. As Californians we couldn't tolerate that so they finally gave us another room, which we finally checked in to an hour after our arrival.
Initial difficulties aside, we were able to enjoy a quite pleasant stay at the Maya. Jet-lagged, we struggled to stay awake for the complimentary tea & coffee at the Sky Lounge in the evening. It was worth it for the views (see photo above) but we each had two sips of tea then went upstairs and passed out exhausted. There was also a cool hydrotherapy pool, kind of a cross between a regular pool and a jacuzzi.
Overall we didn't do much in KL besides sleep, eat, drink, swim in the pool and venture out to the Central Market where we saw this interesting graffiti:
We opted not to try out the "Cute Fish Spa" (see photo below) where little fish come and nibble on you in what's described as an exfoliating treatment. I have to say that it sounded intriguing, although at the same time I do remember being freaked out by little fish nibbling on me at summer camp so maybe it wouldn't have been so cool after all.
We also watched the first couple of days of the Olympics on Malaysian television. As much as self-hating American liberals might complain about the media in our country, it's at least professional and slick. The Malaysian broadcasts were sloppy and the hosts had no chemistry, constantly interrupting each other, beginning each sentence with "ok then" and generally offering totally useless comentary. And that was on the English-language broadcast. On the Bahasa Malaysia broadcast they had this fat, old and grotesquely ugly guy with a wispy mustache (which all Malaysian men have) which made me appreciate all of the plastic surgery that newsies in our great country get. U-S-A! U-S-A!
There was a rain delay during one of the tennis matches and they had no alternative programming to offer, so instead they just showed the same 30-second promotional clip 100 times in a row. I'm not kidding.
As we said good-bye to Malaysia we were once again treated to its outstanding logistics. we took a taxi (or as it's called in Bahasa Malaysia, a taksi) back to Sentral Steten. Just like in Hong Kong it's possible to check in for your flight, including checking your bags, at the train station. This meant that we didn't have to deal with our bags at all on the train, and got back to KLIA in plenty of time for our flight.
We did experience two disappointments on our way out which did slightly sully my extremely high opinion of KLIA. First we got stuck in an glass elevator, but luckily it only took us about 5 minutes to get rescued. However, while we were stuck we were taunted by two dreadlocked hippie Australian bitches and a whiny queen who shouted "See ya! Wouldn't wanna be ya!" as they walked away without offering any assistance. I was really hoping that we'd see them again at someplace like the airport Starbucks so that I could "accidentally" spill hot coffee on them.
On the subject of Starbucks, the one thing KLIA is really lacking is dining options. On previous trips here there used to be a Rainforest Cafe, which while tacky, would have at least been entertaining. It appears that although the Rainforest Cafe corporation no longer runs the restaurant, the decor was kept by the new owners who now call it Rimba Jungle Cafe. Unfortunately the food there looked greasy and too spicy (not advisable before getting on an airplane), plus it appeared to have been sitting there for hours. We decided to opt for noodles instead at the Nooodles House (yes, there are 3 o's in Nooodles) which was right next door to the Cheers bar. Yes, as in THAT Cheers from TV. I've seen it in other airports like Cincinnati as well. Anyway as we walked past Cheers I commented that it was the worst-smelling bar in the world, until we realized that the smell was coming from the Nooodles House, so we scratched that off the list. Our dining options were now down to Sbarro (where, ironically, I had eaten 10 years ago on my first trip through KLIA after suffering 3 weeks of diarrhea in India) and Burger King. We initially opted for Sbarro before deciding that the food there also looked like it had been sitting around for hours, so we just bit the bullet and went to BK instead. We did justify it by reminding ourselves that this would be our last chance to eat beef for a couple of weeks since that's never an option in India.
It turned out that we were 2 of the only 3 white people on the flight, a fact that did not go unnoticed by the security personnel at our gate who stopped us to make sure that we were getting on the right plane.