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24 December 2009

The day before Christmas

AS THE world celebrates this weekend, I remember the Words of Bahá'u'lláh, Founder of the Bahá'í Faith: “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth."

This is usually the sweetest time of the year to hope that those we love get the best of health and wealth for the new year, so let me wish all of you the happiest moments this holiday weekend . . .

. . . and may 2010 kick off a more fulfilling decade for you and your family . . .

. . . and may the bright lights of the season and the holy light of unity continue to shine on you throughout your good life!

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Listening to: The Manhattan Transfer - The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire) via FoxyTunes

18 December 2009

Sighted sight: 
Monarch Hotel, Bengaluru

Situated along the very busy Brigade Road in downtown Bengaluru, Monarch Hotel is value for money for travelers who wish to stay in a central location. It is neither frilly nor modern, but it is clean and safe, tucked away above a commercial building, with friendly front-desk service. There are restaurants within the vicinity, and for travelers who are excited with bargain-hunting opportunities at Brigade Road, this hotel is very convenient.

02 November 2009

Sighted sight: 
St. James Hotel, Bangkok

Located on quiet, leafy 18 Soi Sukhumvit 26, St. James Hotel provides the best value for money in an expensive vicinity. The lobby of the elegant 3-star hotel, which is part of the global Amari hospitality chain, gives a preview of how remarkable the rest of the hotel is designed. The swimming pool is big enough for several laps and accessible through an outdoor staircase, giving you a comfortable warm-up by the time you reach the pool! The room is clean and spacious enough for a couple. The fittings are modern, and I particularly like how the shoe rack is elevated from the floor for easy reach. I also like the tiny anti-theft signs inside the room that politely advise the guest that bathrobes and towels are available at cost. The front desk staff speaks fluent English, and the concierge is polite and attendant.

Outside the hotel is a food stall that serves fabulous noodles; if you prefer Japanese food, there are three places to choose from down the street; and if you really want a proper restaurant, a fabulous food court beckons from the glitzy Emporium mall within walking distance away. The Phrom Phong skytrain station sits just near the corner of 18 Soi and Sukhumvit Road to take you up up and away.

St. James Hotel
18 Sukhumvit 26 Klongton, Klongtoey, Bangkok 10110, Thailand
www.amari.in


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Listening to: Pat Metheny & Anna Maria Jopek - Szepty I Lzy [Whispers and Tears] via FoxyTunes

28 October 2009

Barbra's record

YOU MAY have heard that Barbra Streisand made history this month with her latest album, Love Is the Answer. She topped the album charts in the US and the UK, shocking industry observers who predicted tough battle for #1 between new releases by the younger Mariah Carey and the much younger band Paramore. (To make things more relevant, Madonna's new album also showed up near the top of those charts.)

By topping the charts, Ms. Streisand—who remains the female singer with the most #1 albums—created records as the only female artist with #1 albums in each of the past five decades, and as the female artist with the longest span of #1 albums. This enhances the legend of Ms. Streisand, as I'm not sure if this feat can be repeated again by any other female singer in our generation.


Now comes the news that Love Is the Answer debuts this week on Billboard Top Jazz Albums at #2! I'm not sure if Ms. Streisand has ever shown up on jazz charts during her 47-year career, but this certainly becomes the legendary pop singer's highest jazz-charting album ever. She's not really known as a jazz artist (cabaret singer? lounge diva, perhaps?), but I do recall a Playboy magazine poll back in the late 70s, and her name showed up on "favorite jazz vocalist" list.

Love Is the Answer has become Barbra Streisand's best received album since 1985's award-winning The Broadway Album. Critics all agree on one thing: Love Is the Answer sparkles with the shimmering finesse of a glorious singing voice. I got my copy last week, on the eve of my overseas travel, and I agree with what the critics have assessed. I'll post up my further thoughts on the album when I return next week.

Congratulations, Ms. Streisand! Here's seeing you collect your next Grammy Award in February!


"Love Is the Answer" TV commercial
Link reference: YouTube.com

27 October 2009

Pluto (2006-2009)

Pluto

Pluto

IT'S BEEN a month since Pluto's death. The day he left—1 October—ended a sad, tragic week in familiar places: the floods in my hometown Manila, the tsunami in Samoa (home of the Baha'i Temple of the Pacific), the earthquake in Sumatra. The circumstances weren't easy. They weren't welcome anytime.

Pluto died of complications from acute renal failure, which I learned to be a genetic disease common to most Persian cats. The illness was swift: he was diagnosed two weeks before his death, and he spent the last 15 days of his life hanging onto intravenous treatment. Other complications arose, including inability to pass urine, and in the end, he was simply too weak to carry on.

He lived a short life (3 years and 2 months), but the delightful moments with him were endless. He was the only living creature that literally shared my bed in India, watching me as I slept, him crouched on my pillow, and saw me wake up, him tugging at my hair, a childhood habit he never outgrew ever since that night I brought him home from Pune, a curious two-month-old bundle of energy. He was a silent witness to my life in India, having been there when I moved houses in Mumbai, relocated to Kolkata, hosted gatherings in my flats, and fought with service providers on the phone!

It's tough to connect the Pluto of those heart-wrenching dying hours with the Pluto that brightened my days and nights in India. The only thing that remained constant was the thick, golden, furry coat of silky, life-infused Persian cat hair.

This is the Pluto I'll always remember.


Image source: Paul Ancheta at Flickr

Related Sites: Pluto comes home | Pluto turns 1 | Pluto turns 2

20 October 2009

Sad About Kolkata: 
How I survived BSNL

AFTER 32 days of hounding BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd., supposedly India's top telecommunications company), I got my Internet broadband service back at home. What I went through has been the most ridiculous carousel of office referrals that I've ever encountered in the service industry in my entire life. It's not enough that I could all each of them only through a BSNL land line (I use Airtel and my office uses Tata). But the worst part is that none of these officers could give me the name of the person directly responsible for customer care--hence, the carousel!

The service was disrupted on 19 September, and I immediately contacted the Customer Care Desk. For a while I called this the "Customer Wear and Tear Desk" as the agents neither spoke English nor offered any satisfying resolution to my plight as a customer. In fact, at one point, a female agent simply hung the phone while I was speaking. She probably thought I was over-acting with my endless patter.

After two weeks, I learned why my service was cut: there had been an underground cable problem. And for this, I had to wait until after the Durga Puja holiday season (read: one week) for servicemen to attend to me. What they didn't tell me wast that after this celebration of the goddess Durga, there was another weekend holiday that involves another goddess, which meant I had to wait for yet another week.

The cable was finally restored this week, and I finally got back my Internet (and my sanity) on Tuesday evening.

In living all these years in Kolkata, I've found that such customer care ineptitude is common in most service providers based in this city. It took me two weeks to get the Godrej refrigerator team to inspect my appliance, and one month for my car to get delivered after payment was received. It's sad to see that the Bengalis, who I think have the most innovative minds in India, have service workers who cannot innovate processes that will deliver rewarding results in customer care.

28 August 2009

Mad & sad about Kolkata

IN ANY relationship, it’s always easy to get so used to its familiarities that when novelty wears off, we forget about the good things that made that relationship work in the first place. I was thinking of this while traveling away from Kolkata this week. I’ve lived in West Bengal’s proud capital city long enough—exactly two years this month—to be accustomed to its nuances and nuisances, but half of the time I still moan and groan about everything that it is and isn’t.

For the record, Kolkata is NOT an easy place. It’s one of India’s four metropolitan centers (the others being Mumbai, New Delhi, and Chennai), but the city formerly known as Calcutta—famous, and infamous, for its ferocious independence of body and soul—seems to perpetually reject the advances towards modernity of those three other cities. It’s impossible to translate in the city the cosmopolitan attitudes seen in Mumbai, the urbane spirit in New Delhi, or the disciplined ways in Chennai. “They can all be the same, but they are them, and we are not them” seems to be the mantra of daily living for the Calcuttans.

However, traveling in Gurgaon, New Delhi, and Ahmedabad in the past four weeks and getting caught in relentless heat, reckless traffic, and ruthless pollution, I found myself actually missing Kolkata, where sun is fun and traffic is slick. The truth is, there are endless things that make me mad and sad about Kolkata. These are my tales of Kolkata, the stuff that fortify my bumpy relationships with the city.

You’ll begin to read about them on this blog.

26 July 2009

Sighted Site:
Delhi's Terminal 1 rocks!

TO PARAPHRASE the old Broadway song: "Hello, Delhi! It's so nice to have your airport where it belongs: a league of its own!"

I love this newly renovated airport. Officially the Terminal 1 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport, its modernization took a painfully long time, but the long wait is worth it. (It reopened in February this year after two years of renovation work.) I remember having to endure musty odors of the human and damp-ceiling type (but mostly human), long queues with irate and irritating passengers, and no place to sit AND stand at the pre-departure area. The old airport often reminded me of domestic terminals in smaller towns in southern Philippines. The reality of it being the welcome mat to India's capital always puzzled me.

Hyderabad, Bengaluru, and Mumbai have also unveiled their revamped domestic terminals, but Delhi Airport tops them all. Here's why:

    1. There is nothing fancy or pretentious about the architectural design. It looks modern yet feels ethnic (watch the huge square pillars at the pre-departure area). It's elegant. It's massive. With such a high ceiling, it tends to be loud, which all modern airports are. It's busy. All these adjectives point to one thing: it's pretty much like the Indian population.

    2. The pre-departure area has lots of seating. I call them the "gossip seats". Grouped in diamond shapes, they are perfect for Indians and non-Indians traveling together to face each other and engage in catching up, rumor mongering, character bashing, and, if you're from Gujarat, sharing home-made food.

    3. Convenience outlets are everywhere. Very convenient for laptop users and even for those who take the "Sweetheart my phone battery's dying so I gotta go see you next week buh-bye" route.

    4. Flight information screens in every corner means you don't have to pester the exceedingly beautiful North Indian female attendants at the information kiosk and make them frown with useless questions like "Why is my flight not delayed?".

    5. There are food kiosks at the northern, southern, eastern, and western parts of the pre-departure area. Good news for those who take budget airlines.

    6. No one is allowed to go down to the gates unless the public announcer says so.

    7. And the jewel in the crown: QUEUE MARKERS! For someone who's lost so much patience and raised so much blood pressure with queue-jumpers in India, Delhi Airport's queue markers are sweet, embraceable vanguards of discipline and order. We've indeed reached the new century in India with Delhi Airport's queue markers.

I now board my plane in bliss.

Queue markers at Delhi Airport

Queue markers at Delhi Airport

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NOW PLAYING: Eliane Elias - Apareceu via FoxyTunes

25 July 2009

Travel to New Delhi:
Deadly in Delhi

TIMES OF India announced yesterday that the Delhi-Gurgaon Highway claims a high rate of road accidents, with almost 100 people getting seriously injured every month. I'll be the first to concur with this, after witnessing a motorcycle accident on the same road in the morning.

The road was sloping up, and traffic was piling ahead of me. Suddenly, a motorcyclist showed up from nowhere, zipping past by me. Then just as suddenly, SCREEECH! The man somersaulted in the air, hurled out of the bike, and landed on the ground a few meters ahead of me. Thud! Then the bike! It fell on top of him like a flat sheet of plywood!

The sight was instantaneous, merciless, spectacular. I decided not to stare, fearing blood and limbs scattered on the gravely wide highway. Besides, even if there weren't blood and limbs, I wouldn't have seen anything, as a crowd quickly formed around him.

I was told later that the man managed to sit up and hold his crash helmet that had been split into two. I assume that the motorcyclist could have accelerated his speed, since the road was sloping up. Upon reaching the curve, he must have tried to decelerate, but the timing was off and he tried to veer away. With that speed, it was too late and too difficult to control the bike.

I hope the man is well. To all readers, please drive with care, caution, and common sense always. And if you're a motorcyclist, please avoid such high-speed roads as expressways and highways. You don't belong there. No, not even if you're an Evel Knievel junkie. Take the arterial roads for your sake and others' sake.

Unless you decide to take the expressway to the afterlife. Even then, don't take others with you!

17 July 2009

Amongst India's finest

Spencer's VM Team

The Spencer's VM Team

SPENCER'S RETAIL won another accolade tonight: its visual merchandising (VM) is recognized as one of India's best at the Retail Design Awards in Bangalore. It's the first time the company ever received this kind of merit, and that goes to all the men and women pictured above. They're the Spencer's VM team, and I'm thrilled to be their team head!

While we didn't get the top prize (it went to Levi's), being second best is just as good. First, the recognition comes at the end of the VM program's first year in Spencer's, so it's a great motivator for us to do better in the coming years. Second, this marks the first time that the Best VM category is introduced at the Retail Design Awards, so getting shortlisted alone is already a historic achievement. Finally, Spencer's is the only food store amongst the nominees. That alone makes the recognition so reaffirming. Our efforts are paying off.

The slide show below includes images shown at tonight's awards ceremony. It's how we won the merit!


Image source: Paul Ancheta at Flickr

14 June 2009

Travel to New Delhi:
Filipinos in northern India


Celebration of Independence Day
Image source: Paul Ancheta

I'M ENDING my "blog drought" with this weekend's story. It's about the best two consecutive days I've had since the Regional Bahá’í Conference in Kolkata in November 2008. It deserves to be told.

Last Thursday, with an invitation from the Philippine Embassy in New Delhi, I flew to the Indian capital to help celebrate the 111th anniversary of the Philippine declaration of independence on 12 June (yesterday). I planned to use the visit to renew my passport and register as an overseas absentee voter for the Philippine national elections being held next year.

I also wanted to meet New Delhi Consul Iric Arribas, trade officer Vyke Roaring, and Mumbai Consul General R. Swaminathan in person. We've had phone and e-mail conversations earlier, so it was the right time to finally meet up. Over lunch, we enthused over possibilities of trade links with the company I work with, and shared upbeat stories as Filipinos living in India.

Then came Friday morning. It was Independence Day. I joined over 50 other Filipinos for a flag-raising ceremony at the gardens of the Philippine Embassy. Thoughts of socio-political freedom were farthest from my mind. There was something much more thrilling than those.

I was finally meeting a bona fide Filipino group, for the first time since coming to India in December 2005.

They had remained faceless names in the "Filipinos in India" Yahoo!Group that we shared online. Not anymore. Standing on the embassy gardens, they were smartly attired in Filipino shirts and dresses, the dainty embroideries on pineapple and banana fabrics gently lit by the early midsummer morning sky. Smiles were shared, laughter echoed. And there spilled Tagalog, the beautiful language of my very many years in Manila. "So you're Dante!" "Remember Paul Ancheta, who was speaking in Ilocano? That's him!" "Yes, I remember the message you posted about remittances!"

The Philippine ambassador to India, Mr. Francisco Benedicto, and his lovely wife opened up their home to welcome the community after the flag was hoisted. Their house, elegant and inviting, was spacious enough to fit all of us, seated. It was also the perfect setting for a perfect Filipino breakfast. Sinangag. Lugaw. Maja blanca. Tapa! The last time I had Filipinized spaghetti was during my brother's birthday in Manila in 1998, so that morning's spaghetti lingered a while in my mouth before getting chewed completely.

Later that day, several more Filipinos joined the same group at The Ashok hotel for evening cocktails with members of the Delhi diplomatic corps. Instrumental versions of the Indian and Philippine national anthems opened the evening and set its tone: dignified, familiar, enveloping. I never realized how moving the Indian anthem could get.

Those I met this weekend represent the most diverse Filipino community I've seen in all the places I've lived and worked in. They come from the fields of NGO, hospitality, fashion and product design, retail, urban planning, public works, private service, and family builders (I refer to the housewives of Indians). I was introduced to Monsignor Arnaldo Catalan, the first Filipino appointed as secretary to the Papal Nuncio in India. I met a Filipina working at the Norwegian Embassy, and saw a Filipino married to the lady running Spain's cultural center in India. I also saw the best of both worlds when I met the non-Filipino spouses and their children: those kids should join beauty contests when they're old enough!

With all the familiar Filipino food, fun, and fellowship in Delhi this weekend, it was like being transported back home. It was good. Very good.

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Now playing: Regine Velasquez - Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka
via FoxyTunes

31 March 2009

Cheap Shot, Chip Tsao

A HITHERTO unknown Hong Kong-based columnist has given himself 15 minutes of fame by enraging Filipinos this weekend with a tasteless and idiotic allegation that appeared in last Friday's HK Magazine. In what his publisher, Asia City Publishing Group, apologetically calls a "satirical" article, a certain Chip Tsao reproves the Filipinos, who are a "nation of servants", for "(flexing) muscles at your master, from whom you earn most of your bread and butter." This is in reference to the Philippines' long-standing claim to the Spratly Islands, which China believes is theirs and theirs alone.

The Russians sank a Hong Kong freighter last month, killing the seven Chinese seamen on board. We can live with that-Lenin and Stalin were once the ideological mentors of all Chinese people. The Japanese planted a flag on Diàoyú Island. That’s no big problem-we Hong Kong Chinese love Japanese cartoons, Hello Kitty, and shopping in Shinjuku, let alone our round-the-clock obsession with karaoke.

But hold on-even the Filipinos? Manila has just claimed sovereignty over the scattered rocks in the South China Sea called the Spratly Islands, complete with a blatant threat from its congress to send gunboats to the South China Sea to defend the islands from China if necessary. This is beyond reproach. The reason: there are more than 130,000 Filipina maids working as $3,580-a-month cheap labor in Hong Kong. As a nation of servants, you don’t flex your muscles at your master, from whom you earn most of your bread and butter.

As a patriotic Chinese man, the news has made my blood boil. I summoned Louisa, my domestic assistant who holds a degree in international politics from the University of Manila, hung a map on the wall, and gave her a harsh lecture. I sternly warned her that if she wants her wages increased next year, she had better tell every one of her compatriots in Statue Square on Sunday that the entirety of the Spratly Islands belongs to China.

Grimly, I told her that if war breaks out between the Philippines and China, I would have to end her employment and send her straight home, because I would not risk the crime of treason for sponsoring an enemy of the state by paying her to wash my toilet and clean my windows 16 hours a day. With that money, she would pay taxes to her government, and they would fund a navy to invade our motherland and deeply hurt my feelings.

Oh yes. The government of the Philippines would certainly be wrong if they think we Chinese are prepared to swallow their insult and sit back and lose a Falkland Islands War in the Far East. They may have Barack Obama and the hawkish American military behind them, but we have a hostage in each of our homes in the Mid-Levels or higher. Some of my friends told me they have already declared a state of emergency at home. Their maids have been made to shout “China, Madam/Sir” loudly whenever they hear the word “Spratly.” They say the indoctrination is working as wonderfully as when we used to shout, “Long live Chairman Mao!” at the sight of a portrait of our Great Leader during the Cultural Revolution. I’m not sure if that’s going a bit too far, at least for the time being.

Me, I'm more amused than offended that this Chip Tsao has taken all these years to even mention the Spratlys controversy. It's an old, unresolved, unresolvable issue, having been there since my own grade school days way way back in the seventies. I remember how our Social Studies class debated the virtues of oil that the Philippines discovered in disputed territory off Palawan Island.

Perhaps this Chip Tsao is unconsolably livid after realizing that his better-educated Filipino domestic servant did not him teach about the Spratlys while tutoring him on Asian Contemporaneous Events.

At least he's got 15 minutes of fame now.

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Now playing: Emma Bunton - Free Me [Full Intention Freed Up Remix] via FoxyTunes

25 March 2009

The Indian Express on Naw-Rúz

THE INDIAN Express has written about the Bahá’ís of Delhi, in a brilliant article about Naw-Rúz that appeared on last Sunday's print edition. Read about it on "A New Light".

The writer, Shoba, approached me about the writeup--she wrote briefly about my blog earlier this month on "The Expat Blog About Town"--and I passed her onto the external affairs group of the Bahá’ís in New Delhi. It's remarkable how she went out of her way to locate and interview the Bahá’ís in the story. And I love the way that she ended the story with the following sentence:

It is this Tabernacle of Unity that is the essence of the Bahá’í faith, where the waters of disharmony are not permitted to eddy into the peace of mankind.

That, my friends, is the truth. I hope you enjoy reading the rest of Shoba's story!


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NOW PLAYING: Tal Bachman - She's So High via FoxyTunes

21 March 2009

We won!

SPENCER'S RETAIL has been named the "Most Admired F&G Retailer of the Year" amongst convenience and express formats in India. Given this weekend at the Food Forum India 2009 convention in Mumbai, the award is one of 12 that comprise the Coca Cola Golden Spoon Awards for excellence in food retailing. It's one of the most eagerly anticipated awards in the Indian food industry.

The winners were based on votes from consumers through a national survey and from experts in food and grocery retail. This latest recognition for Spencer's Retail is yet another reason to be proud of the company I work with. It's darn good.

To give you an idea how our larger stores look like, pictured below are displays that we created in relaunching our hypermarket in Gurgaon in northern India.


Image source: Paul Ancheta at Flickr

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NOW PLAYING: Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin - Ravel (1875-1937) : "Ma Mère l'Oye" - Les Entretiens de la Belle et la Bête via FoxyTunes

Happy Naw-Rúz!

Kolkata Bahá'ís

Bahá'ís of Kolkata celebrating Naw-Rúz at the Bahá'í Center, 20 March
Image source: Paul Ancheta

TODAY IS the first day of a brand new year for Bahá’ís around the world. Called "Naw-Rúz", which means "New Day" in Persian, it is one of the nine holy days of the year, a joyous celebration that also welcomes the first day of spring.

Traditionally, Nowrūz is the Iránian new year, commemorated particularly by the Zoroastrians and Sufists. It is also celebrated by Muslims throughout the Middle East and Central Asia as Navroz. Abdu'l-Bahá, Son of the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, has said of Naw-Rúz:

The rising of the sun at the equinox is the symbol of life and the human reality is revivified; our thoughts are transformed and our intelligence is quickened. The sun of truth bestows eternal life, just as the solar sun is the cause of terrestrial life.

Here's wishing all of you the joys and good health that spring brings! May they last through summer, fall, & winter . . . and may the light of His Divine mercy & protection surround you and your loved ones!

RELATED SITE: Naw-Rúz Greetings from the New York Bahá’ís

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NOW PLAYING: Lincoln Mayorga - Mayorga : "Bluefields" via FoxyTunes

11 March 2009

Festival of Holi

Holified

Holified at last year's Holi party at the office

COLOR AND laughter splash all over India today, as the subcontinent celebrates Holi. It's that day of the year when you get doused in this powdery colorful concoction called abir, and you're supposed to look funny in all those shades of red, yellow, and monstrous green.P>And all for the sake of fun and fellowship. There's no direct religious meaning to Holi, although a friend mentioned yesterday that it had medical connotations in the olden days when cholera was widespread (abir is supposed cool the body). It's possibly the least expensive of all Indian festivals, which ensures its popularity in the present financial climate. All that's needed are abir, pichkari (water gun), old white clothes, and TONS OF HUMOR.

Yup, humor. Who needs to be serious about being thrown hideous green powder in a white Pierre Cardin shirt, when there's nothing much you can do about it anyway? (That, by the way, happened to me last year, despite me cautiously avoiding anyone.)

Happy Holi!

Holified

Applying abir on a colleague


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Now playing: Tom Jobim, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso - Águas de Março via FoxyTunes

08 March 2009

Epitaph:
Vicente Samaniego (1930-2009)

MY BROTHER Royce's beeping text message from Manila woke me up yesterday morning and told me about it. Rushing to my PC, I saw Raphael's e-mail: "Tito Paul, Lolo Vic just passed away, around 2am in the Philippines."

Mr. Vicente Samaniego, staunch servant of Bahá'u'lláh, well-loved member of the Asian Bahá'í community, gentle spiritual beacon to my family, and doting father-in-law of my brother Allan, has moved on to the next world after a swift but painful illness. He is now in the company of those he had ever loved in his shining life here on earth.

What a bounty for me to have been touched by you, Tito Vic. I will always remember you and your rich life of service!

02 March 2009

The Bahá'í Fast

STARTING TODAY until 20 March, Bahá'ís around the globe rise before the sun does, eat a nourishing breakfast, pray . . . and then take their next meal after the sun sets. It's the annual season of the Fast, and the time has come once again for Bahá'ís to prepare and rejuvenate their spirits for Naw-Rúz, the Bahá'í new year, on 21 March.

My first day of Fast started well, having rehearsed my cook to prepare breakfast at 5:00 AM. This is my ninth year of fasting (I missed last year since I was traveling extensively). It's the only time of the year when I consciously make the truest effort to detach from material passions and desires, as mandated by Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá'í Faith. A friend told me recently that the industry I work for—retail industry—is the first to encourage such materialism. So true, and so lucky am I. There will be tests at work in the next 18 days, and I look forward to winning those challenges through the Fast!

01 March 2009

RPG Day

RPG Day

RPG Day at Nicco Park, Kolkata
Image source: Paul Ancheta

INDUSTRIALIST RAMA Prasad Goenka, founder and chairman emeritus of RPG Enterprises, celebrated his birthday today. It's been customary for the RPG Enterprises, a 30-year-old industrial conglomerate that includes Spencer's Retail (my employer), to celebrate his birthday with "RPG Day", and today's bash in Kolkata is possibly the most austere one ever. Held tonight at the suburban Nicco Water Park on the eastern fringes of the city, the celebration highlighted the group's corporate social responsibility (CSR) thrusts through a remarkable photographic exhibit. I'm actually impressed, never realizing the extent of the company's CSR endeavors. In these frugal, precarious days, it's superbly reassuring to once again see the buoyancy of RPG Enterprises.

The picture below shows the booth that the visual merchandising team created for the Spencer's private label brands, as part of the product exhibit showcasing RPG's various enterprises. Tonight's entertainment program promised to be fun, but I was so bushed from attending to the day's activities that I had to do a rain check and leave my colleagues to enjoy the promising evening.

Happy birthday, Mr. Goenka. It's an honor working with the group!

RPG Day

Spencer's Retail booths
Image source: Paul Ancheta

23 February 2009

And the Oscar goes to . . .


AR Rahman's Oscar 2009 speech
Link reference: YouTube.com

AR RAHMAN, "Slumdog Millionaire"! I've been watching the Oscars for a long time now, and tonight, while watching this year's show, it felt strange to hear that familiar Hindi accent being spoken on the Oscar stage. Tonight, we got it twice (for Best Song and Best Original Score). And that's courtesy of the talented Mr Rahman (and to a wide measure, the director Danny Boyle for bringing the British-Indian film to Western exposure).

My first full acquaintance with AR Rahman's music was through the highly enjoyable soundtrack to the movie "Rang de Basanti" back in 2006. The sound was a big diversion from the Bollywood music that I always knew: it was melodious with its rhythms, youthful in its beats, and it wasn't music to romp with around the trees or on a wide street with dozens of dancers. I thought the music had a strong chance at the Oscars that year, after reading that it was sent in for Best Song nomination. It didn't even get nominated. A big bummer, I think, considering how original the music was in the context of contemporary Indian film music. In fact, I think "Rang de Basanti" and "Delhi 6", which I'm listening to right now, are superior to "Slumdog Millionare". But I leave that to another post.

Congratulations, Mr Rahman! You have made India--and lovers of world music everywhere--so very proud!

Related Stories: Slumdog Slam; Congratulations, AR Rahman!

15 February 2009

Manila in the dark

TIM KINDSETH wrote in Time magazine this week about Manila Through the Eyes of F. Sionil José. The visual reference is the sweeping Rosales Saga, written by the most widely-read of contemporary Filipino novelists. I'm glad that Mr. Sionil José gets deserving space in Time Magazine. Unfortunately, Mr. Kindseth saw Manila most unkindly, sweeping one of Southeast Asia's most cosmopolitan cities ungraciously away, failing to realize how Western colonialism led to the decay that he avidly describes, and certainly failing to see it the way Mr. Sionil José did in his novels.

Manila's redeeming virtues were the centerpiece of Mr. Sionil José's five-volume opus. Instead, Mr. Kindseth decided to revisit the physical spaces described in the novels, and bring the modernized version into front row (on the magazine's print edition, the story was on full page). Hence, he talks excessively about sunsets rimmed in "diesel pollution", "vulgar light & sound shows", and "starched luxury malls". He fails to understand the redemption that lies beyond these modern elements, introduced into Asia by interactions with the West and so ubiquitous, if not grander in scale, in most of Asia's megacities. Had he gone beyond the façade offered by Manila's pockets of rancid smell and decadent sight, he would have celebrated a vital mass of warm humanity that is unique in Southeast Asia and increasingly difficult to experience elsewhere in this age of materialism and Web 2.0-driven fanaticism.

I'm not sure how to classify Mr. Kindseth's essay. He refers to it as "sense of space". It is neither travel writing nor architectural exposé. Either way, it is senseless and a waste of space.


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Now playing: L.T.D. feat. Jeffrey Osborne - Love Ballad
via FoxyTunes

Traveling in a coffin

THAT'S HOW I felt in a "sleeper coach" that took me overnight from Trichy in Tamil Nadu to Bangalore in Karnataka down south last week. The passenger bus contained around 20 beds, and I had the misfortune of getting an upper-deck bed.

Bed? Coffin, actually. It was six feet long, four feet high, and two feet wide. Effectively, it meant that my 5'11" frame, along with my backpack and carry-on luggage, could stretch out without being able to move any body part at all. Which is probably how it is in a coffin. On top of a bumpy bus. For eight hours. Overnight.

I survived the journey with 15 minutes of nocturnal slumber. I will never take these "sleeper coaches" in India again.

(I couldn't take photos to regale you with this story, for obvious reasons.)


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Now playing: T.I. ft Rihanna - Live Your Life
via FoxyTunes

26 January 2009

Chinese New Year

Year of the Ox

Year of the Ox
Image source: Bernard Oh

CHINESE EVERYWHERE have ushered in the new Year of the Ox. The 15-day festival, which starts today, celebrates the attributes of the ox: tenacity, hard work, modesty, and a self-sacrificing nature with an active mind. Those born in the year of the ox are not extravagant, shrinking from all the "wheeling and dealing" of the competitive world.

Hmm. With all those values of fortitude and honesty, it sounds like the Chinese are indeed preparing us for the dreary prospects of the new year!

San nin faai lok (Happy new year)! Kung hei fat choy (Congratulations and be prosperous)!


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Now playing: True Faith feat. Brian Qua - Get It On via FoxyTunes

24 January 2009

Slumdog slam


“Jai Ho”
Link reference: YouTube.com

INDIANS, AND lovers of India, have another great reason to be ecstatic: the international recognition made by the ten—get it, TEN!--Oscar nominations on the British-Indian film "Slumdog Millionare". This is fabulous vindication for a movie that almost went straight to DVD, has two virtual unknowns on lead roles, and apparently tackles the gritty realities of Mumbai's once-world-famous slums without the drecky, cheesy manners of Bollywood. It's been premiered here in India; I must see it AND listen to AR Rahman's soundtrack. (Mr Rahman alone accounted for three of those ten noms. Whew. 'Atta man.)

Related Stories: Congratulations, AR Rahman!; AR Rahman, “Ek Mohabbat (One Love)”

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Now playing: Indigo Girls - Midnight Train To Georgia via FoxyTunes

22 January 2009

Girl talk

THE FORMER US president's daughters have written the new US president's daughters an open letter with advice on how to live their lives in the White House. CNN calls this unprecedented, which is pretty much like everything that's been going on lately around that house.

It's fun to read what Jenna and Barbara Bush had to tell Malia and Sasha Obama about what they call "such a magical place to live and play." Sliding down a banister? Trick-or-treating in the airplane dressed in Halloween costume? Playing hide-and-seek behind the huge curtains? And they've especially mentioned Ramsey, Buddy, and Smiley, ushers who heaped hugs, football talks, and smiles on the girls, and generally made their lives sunnier. Those three men must still be beaming.

Thankfully, the Bush twins, known for their partying ways, spared the Obama girls tips on how to get drunk. But the letter touched on a poignant truth: "Although it's an honor and full of so many extraordinary opportunities, it isn't always easy being a member of the club you are about to join. Our dad, like yours, is a man of great integrity and love; a man who always put us first. We still see him now as we did when we were 7: as our loving daddy. So here is our most important piece of advice: Remember who your dad really is."

Awww, sweet. That's one of the loveliest things I've read this week.

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Now playing: Pat Metheny Trio - Dreaming Trees via FoxyTunes

20 January 2009

I'm sure it's edible

Hot Dong?

SHOT IN Uttar Pradesh, India, the burglar bugger bargar burger must have been flown in by a certain masseur Mashur from Mumbai. But what has that got to do with this?

18 January 2009

Focal point:
Paul Kriwaczek,
“In Search of Zarathustra”

LONG BEFORE Bahá'u'lláh, the Prophet Muhammad, the Christ, and Moses, there was Zoroaster. His message revolutionized the ideas of good versus evil, introduced to us the unwavering truth of one God, and stayed with us through thousands of years of constant human evolution. Who was he? Where did he teach? Most importantly, what was his covenant, and what is his religion all about?

Former BBC producer Paul Kriwaczek's "In Search of Zarathustra: Across Iran and Central Asia to Find the World's First Prophet" (Vintage Books, 2002) brings us to a journey of 3,000 years of human achievement across Europe, the Near East, the Indian subcontinent, and then Central Asia, to help with the answers. Written more in the tone of a travelogue than that of a scholarly treatise, the book explores the relationship between Zoroaster's religion and those of the prophets and messengers that followed him. Mr Kriwaczek's attention to historical detail is fascinating: his descriptions of sacred personages, Biblical cliffs, fifth-century Visigoth castles, and glorious temple sites in France, Britain, and Persia are so vivid I often felt like being there myself.

Some of Mr Kriwaczek's assertions are refutable—he calls Zoroaster the first prophet and Muhammad the last—but he succeeds in showcasing the rejuvenating role of divine messengers and prophets in history's ever-changing social and spiritual conditions. I recommend "In Search of Zarathustra" to those who seek to further understand religious truth.

See more about "In Search of Zarathustra.
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Now playing: Hugo Montenegro - Knowing When to Leave via FoxyTunes

12 January 2009

Congratulations, AR Rahman!


AR Rahman winning the Golden Globe
Link reference: YouTube.com

AR RAHMAN won earlier today the Golden Globe award for Best Original Music Score for "Slumdog Millionaire", the first Indian to win a Golden Globe. Visibly surprised, the winner thanked the "billion people of India" on stage. Hey, that includes me! You're welcome, Mr Rahman!

It's a fabulous birthday gift for Mr Rahman, who celebrated his 43rd birthday last week. He's one of India's most prolific and most celebrated writers of film music, amongst others. If ever he gets tired of writing for Bollywood, he can always find a job in Manila: Filipinos will love his mushy, gushing love songs.

I watched the delayed telecast of the show tonight, and I still can't figure out what David Duchovny said about Mr Rahman's name, correcting, incorrectly, the pronunciation as "Rooman". If it was a joke, I didn't get it: it's terribly flat. Mr Duchnovy, it's "Rehman". Were you feeling sore for losing to the fabulous Alec Baldwin in one of the Best Actor categories?

Congratulations, AR Rahman . . . and congratulations, India, for this new victory!

Related Site: AR Rahman, Ek Mohabbat (One Love
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Now playing: Neil Hannon - So Long & Thanks for All the Fish (Reprise) via FoxyTunes

As 2009 rolls in

Happy 2009!

I HOPE you all had a good start in 2009, better than how we ended the year. While we saw a huge difference in the US elections, we also saw a lot of bad moves around us, and the results continue to impact us today in a big way.

May you all have a year of good decisions in a year that needs tough decisions! Carpe annum!

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Now playing: Hue & Cry - Dollar William via FoxyTunes

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