Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Travel Diary Day 13, 14 & 15

Travel Diary - Day 13, Day14. and Day 15

We took the morning flight to Shanghai from Shenzen. Unlike the internal flights within China such as Beijing-Xian, Xian-Guilin and Guilin-Shenzen, this flight from Shenzen to Shanghai was rather longish. We were served a brunch sort of a meal. I had earlier mentioned that Cathay Pacific would be our air carriers throughout the tour. This is not factually correct as I discovered. The internal flights within China were by the domestic airlines such as Air China or Southern China airlines. This stands to reason. Domestic airlines tend to be cheaper than International airlines and there is no reason for the tour operator to bear the extra burden.

On arrival, we were whisked off bag and baggage to Bund Water Front. A nice “ Ghat “ sort of structure has been built on the edge of the water where one can saunter, sit down and rest.. An underground tunnel has been built under the Huangpu river bed for going to the other side of the river. This is an area known as Pudong. While we travelled by an electro-mobile contrivance, our bus took the surface route via a ropeway bridge to pick us up on the other side. We were then taken to a Maglev train. Maglev is the short form of Magnetic Levitation. Here, the entire train does not touch the track. The track is what looked like concrete platform. Due to magnetic repulsion, the train stays above the track by a few inches as in a Hovercraft. In a Hovercraft, the craft stays above the surface by powerful blast of the air. In Maglev, it is because of the magnetic repulsion. In both cases, the craft or the train, on account of not coming in touch with the base, has no friction to overcome. High speeds can therefore be attained. The Maglev has the advantage that an entire train of a number of bogies can be carried while the Hovercraft can at the most be of a giant helicopter size. The Hovercraft scores over the Maglev on water surfaces where magnetic repulsion is difficult to create. We covered 30 kms distance to the airport in 7 minutes flat. The highest speed attained was 431 kms per hour. Every bogie in the train has a speedometer telling you the speed at which the train is travelling at any time. We felt that the train had considerably slowed down as it was approaching a station. However on looking at the speedometer, we found that the speed was 250 kms per hour ! As fast as the bullet train that we had travelled by in Japan. That was when we got a practical lesson in Relativity. After a speed of 431 kmph, a bullet train’s speed viz. 250 kmph seemed to be slow ! Before our leftist friends start crowing that the left – China is better in terms of technology than the right – Japan, let me deflate them. The technology is German and the equipment imported from Germany. Both Japan and China are unashamedly westernizing as I had mentioned earlier.

Next we went to an ocean aquarium. I had seen the Taraporewala Aquarium in Mumbai during my college days. This one is far larger in terms of size as well as the variety of shallow and deep water ocean creatures displayed. Next, we went to the city planning office. On one floor, is a scale model of the entire Shanghai city. You can view it at the same level as the model by going around it. For better appreciation, one can go to a higher floor, where there is an opening in the floor of a size bigger than the model. From an upper floor, you get a bird’s eye view of the entire city. Go to the topmost floor and you can view the city in actuality from the viewing gallery. This was the end of the day and we retired to the Hotel for the night. With our return to the motherland within hailing distance our weary bones picked up a new spirit.

The last day of the tour ! We went to Yu- Yuan garden complex. This is perhaps a feudal lord’s palace. A number of buildings to house the family members and concubines are inter connected by water canals, giving you an impression of Venice. Along the canals rockeries made from a variety of stones are built. In the old days, perhaps access was limited but now a large Bazaar has come up to cater to the tourists and the approach is quite crowded. We visited the Jade Buddha temple where a large size statue of Buddha is sculpted out of a single piece of jade stone. This Buddha is depicted as a young person. We also went to a temple of the reclining Buddha shown while resting. Next we went to a shopping centre with a very large number of shops selling a variety of goods After a field day of intense bargaining, all of us bought articles to take home. Our last item of the day was to the Shanghai Circus where we witnessed a spectacular acrobatic show. There were no animals in the circus.

On day 15, we boarded a flight to Hong Kong, reaching there in the night. We had to change flights here. Our friends from the South of India took a direct flight from Hong Kong while the rest of us took the flight to Mumbai. At the Hong Kong airport, I bought a couple of bottles of Chinese wine. We reached Mumbai at 1-30 A.M. Mr. Agarwal, my companion from Vadodara and I had a scare during this flight. He had misplaced his Passport somewhere and it was simply not found. An announcement was made on the public address system, air hostesses of all sizes and shapes were exhorted to locate it. All toilets and passages were minutely examined but to no avail. As we were nearing Mumbai, the worry was how could we get through Immigration without the passport. There are indeed some ways out for such exigencies but that would take time and we would miss our Shatabdi Express from Borivali to Vadodara which departed at 7-00 A.M. It was impossible to relax all through the flight. Even a couple of pegs of the Chivas Regal did not help much. A senior air hostess advised us to wait in the aircraft till everybody else had vacated and then to scour the area around our seats. We did so and on lifting Mr. Agarwal’s seat cushion, the passport was located to our great relief. How he managed to insert the passport between the cushion and the rest of the seat is a mystery that shall remain unresolved for ever. Not that it matters. We waited at the Mumbai airport till 4- 45 A.M. before taking a prepaid taxi. We were at the Borivali railway station by about 5-30 A.M. Then started the bargaining with the coolies. Thinking that two old men were at their mercy, they quoted exorbitant rates. We started shifting our luggage ourselves a few feet at a time. That brought their sense to the fore and they agreed to a comparatively reasonable rate. The Shatabdi duly arrived at 7 A.M. and we boarded it. This train like the Rajdhani serves tea breakfast etc. For me this was my first journey by this elite train. Reached Vadodara at 11-15 A.M. Anuj, Shri Agarwal’s son was on the platform to receive us and dropped me home in his car, Thus ended our 15 day visit to Japan and China.

Ramesh N Desai

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Travel Diary - Day12

Took the morning flight to Shenzen. Shenzen is on the Chinese mainland, separated from HongKong by a small strip of water. The two places are now connected by a bridge. In the old days, it was a place used for smuggling goodies from Hong Kong that were not available in diehard Maoist China. After the ceding of Hong Kong by the British to China and acceptance of one country, two systems principle which is indeed very pragmatic and has prevented large scale dislocations, the Chinese thought of copying Hong Kong by building from scratch, a huge city. They have eminently succeeded in this effort. In a time span of 30 years, a city with a population of one crore and forty lakhs has come up. Very modern, with lots of flyovers, wide roads, bridges and parks not to mention the industries of various hues and of course the sky scrapers. Both Japan and China have been unashamedly westernizing their countries, the latter, a bit slowly. They have realized something that I have always believed. What we call westernization is in reality industrialization. Industries of the modern kind did not exist in the East. When industries came to the East, there came along with it the social set up, family reconfiguration and so on suitable for an industrial milieu. As the West had industries earlier than the East, the necessary social transformation took place earlier in the West. If the East is - what is called - westernizing, it is in reality merely adjusting to the industrial milieu. Any change, anywhere is resisted and large scale changes, rapid changes are resisted vehemently. The laggards would like to give a moralistic, an idealistic colour to their reluctance to change. Hence the denigration of the so called Westernization and glorification of the ancient. The eastern most part of our planet Earth viz. Japan understood way back in the latter half of the nineteenth century, which way the future lay and the Meiji restoration – the restoration of the real power to the Emperor from the hands of the warlords - was used to re-orient the country in the desired direction. To make up for the lost time, they adopted workaholism, sacrificing of individual’s interests for those of the collective, productivity as a religion and continuous innovations as their creed. In the process, they developed into a mature society. China, elephantine in size, is indeed slower but they too are very decidedly going in the same direction. I must say that Nehru foresaw the general direction; only the means were not apt. Besides we are slower than even the Chinese. We first went to an ecological park. There were a large number of mangroves in the area. To protect them from the rapid development taking place around them, it was decided to turn a large swathe of land adjoining it into an ecological park and plant all kinds of vegetation in it. It has become a great tourist attraction now. The bridge connecting Hong Kong and Shenzen is skirting the park While others were sauntering around, after getting the general idea of the place, I took advantage of the place and time to get a bit of rest on a bench in a shady grove of trees. Next, we went to a very interesting place. It is a theme park aptly called “ The Window to the World “. All the sights worth seeing in this world of ours, are represented in a miniature form here. There is the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, the Colosseum and so on You name it and it is there. Go round this theme park and you get the feel of seeing the whole world. African bushes are there, the Inca civilization, European cathedrals, the Greek civilization, the Roman civilization, everything is represented The Niagara falls, both the American and Canadian are there for you to see. It is a practical lesson in World History and Geography. As if this is not enough, there are stage shows going on at various locations to give you the feel of “been there, done it “. If you have less time or want to walk less, you could take a monorail ride that takes you everywhere overhead. We hitched a ride on it and got a bird’s eye view of the whole world in its miniature form. We also went up the mini- Eiffel Tower by means of an elevator that was superfast. In the time that a normal elevator climbs one floor, it climbs five ! I understood how one would feel when going up a hundred storey building..The mini Eiffel tower is nearly one third the height of the original. The view of the entire park from the vantage position of the topmost platform was breathtaking. As if our senses were not satiated enough, as a grand finale, we were taken to an open air sort of theatre. The stage show was spectacular, with a very large cast, wonderful period costumes, dances, songs and what not. The central aisle between two blocks of spectators suddenly came alive during the show and performers as if from nowhere appeared in the midst of us. The whole aisle was bodily lifted by some mechanism and came level with the spectators. It was indeed an extravaganza as it was touted to be. Tired , I hit the bed as soon as possible on reaching the hotel.

Pappa (Ramesh N Desai)

Travel Diary - Day 11

Today we had an extremely enjoyable river cruise along the Li river in the first half of the day. This river course is between mountains, has clear water and is deep enough for passenger boats to cruise along. At the starting point, we saw a number of flat bottomed boats similar to ours ready to take off. The boat could carry about 100 passengers. It had besides the engine room with a steering wheel, a belly room in which there were tables and chairs for the tourists to sit. On top of the boat was the deck where one could stand and enjoy the scenery while the boat was cruising along. The Li river is a river in the valley between two mountain ranges. It has a rocky bed and clear water. One could clearly see the shingles and rocks along with large and small fish of different colour in the bed. Apparently fishing is not permitted here otherwise there couldn’t have been fish in such quantity. Different shapes and sizes of the mountains on both sides with their greenery enthralled our eyes. Hawkers, paddling along on their sampans ( rafts ) peddled their ware. The same bargaining as in India went on. When I was on the deck, I managed to get a hawker down to 50 Yuans from the 200 Yuans before I bought a laughing Buddha made of beautiful jade stone. I felt a sense of victory. A little later, when I was sitting in the belly portion of the boat below, near my window, appeared another hawker selling the same Buddha figurine. He too quoted 200 Yuans. As I had already bought one, I was in no mood to oblige him. For the sake of politeness, I quoted 20 yuans in the hope that he would slink away. Surprise of surprises ! The man held out the figurine to me and asked for 20 yuans as he was in a hurry to go home. I could not resist the bargain and the share market operator in me wanted to bring down the average price of these figurines taking advantage of a falling market. I bought it. Those who had bought similar figurines @ 50 Yuans doubted whether the second one was of the same size and quality. I too had doubts initially but on checking up, I found them to be identical. Now, I did not know whether to be happy at getting a piece at a cheaper price or to be unhappy at having paid a higher price earlier. I reasoned with myself that the deals had averaged themselves out and I should neither be too elated nor too sad at the happenings. When you take life as a whole, that is what you find ! Things average themselves out. This second bargain helped me to make a new friend. An Englishman sitting near me marveled at my non-challant bid of 20 Yuans in the face of a quoted price of 10 times that amount. I had heard that the English do not speak to people unless spoken to or only after introduction. May be, because he was my age and age had mellowed the proverbial stiff upper lip. Or as it later turned out that as he had settled in Netherlands and the nether part of his adopted land had affected him. Most probably he was like me, a fan of P.G. Wodehouse and you know we Bertie Woosters tend to bond with each other ! He wanted to know if I was a jew, probably meaning it as a compliment. ( In any case, that is what I like to believe ). I said that while I wasn’t one myself, I did have a jewish connection. A niece of mine ( Dipti ) had a jew for a son-in-law and like all my younger relatives, I am proud of him, even if I haven’t set my eyes on him so far. May be that explained my skill, he said and we both laughed. He introduced himself as Bill Nicholson and we got to talking. I told him that the greatest gift of the British to India was bringing back a scientific outlook on life. ( During Vedic times, the spirit of enquiry was there and only on furnishing a proof, were hypotheses accepted, but medieval times had brought in fossilization of concepts ) He gave me his email address and wrote alongside, “ Let’s hold contact “ By sending a copy of this tour diary, I am making my first contact with him. Future will tell its own story. The river mildly meandered its way through the mountains and we were served our lunch. Ours was the vegetarian table and courses after courses of dishes came. One good thing was that the dishes were left on the table and if we thought that the previous dish was better than the succeeding one, we could simply reach out to it and partake of it, unlike western style where unless you specifically asked for a second helping, it is not served. This suited people like us who were unfamiliar with the items served. The quantity served was rather more for us, but than that is their style. I wonder what they do with the leftovers. The meal was quite a satisfying one. While the meal was on, a waitress brought in a fried scorpion as a delicacy. Even non-vegetarians who did not belong to the Mongolian races, did not take the offering despite a pretty good sales effort on the part of the waitress. Thus far, I had only heard about the unusual gastronomic preferences of the Chinese but today I actually saw an example. We disembarked at a different location but our bus was there to take us. Next, we visited the Reed Flute Cave. It is so named as it was discovered by a young boy playing on his hand made flute. The wind took away his flute and in chasing it he went into this unusual place. The rest is history. The cave has fantastic stalactites and stalagmites, of different shapes and colours. Stalactites are formed on the floor of the cave whereas stalagmites are formed on the roof of the cave. They are formed by water percolating, bringing with it some mineral particles and depositing it. Gradually and over a long period of time, these are formed. I had seen some stalactites and stalagmite formations during our geological tour but nothing on this scale and so beautiful. Simply amazing ! For more information on them you could go to google search. We then went on a city tour. The first site was the Elephant Trunk hill, so named because the shape of this largish outcrop is that of an Elephant’s trunk. We drove past the Sha lake and the Banyan lake to go to a pearl factory. We were first taken to a briefing room where a Professor ( no less ! ) explained to us that there are three main areas where pearls are found in the world. While the other two are formed in ocean water, the Guilin one was where pearls were formed in fresh water. He showed us an oyster and said that he was going to open it and if we were lucky, it may contain a pearl. We were indeed lucky and on his cracking open the oyster, a pearl was seen. We were then taken to the exhibition hall where a variety of ornaments and other articles made of pearls were lying. I made some purchases using the visa card. I have purchased a trinket for each of the girls and each of the boys ( both big and small ) in my family. It was a rather long and eventful day and I simply crashed for the day in the bed.


Travel Diary - Day 9 & 10

We took the morning flight to Xian. It is to the South-West of Beijing. We first visited the Terra Cotta Warriors’ Museum. During digging in a field by a farmer, this was accidentally discovered. An emperor got a whim. He thought that he had a lot of soldiers to protect him in this world but when he died and went to the other world, he would be totally unprotected. He had convinced himself that he was too precious whether in this world or the next to be left unprotected. He therefore made advanced preparations. He got an army of soldiers, officers and Generals along with arms, horses and so on made in terra cotta. He got it buried next to the designated place for his own burial. This is what was discovered in subsequent archeological excavations. Replicas of these soldiers are available for tourists to carry home. I bought a brass one that doubles as a lighter – a combination of the ancient and the modern. I have also bought a horse carriage replica reminiscent of those days.. Next we saw a film show in a circular auditorium where you get the feeling that you are right in the midst of all the happenings being projected on the circular walls which double as a screen. In the evening we were taken to a theatre where a stage show on the Tang dynasty that ruled China once upon a time was shown. The show was quite a glittering affair full of costumes, dances and songs. The show went on till late and being sleepy, I had a nodding acquaintance with the last part of the show in the sense that I alternately dozed off and awakened when some loud music was played. During the day, we were taken around in Battery driven cars that can carry 10 persons at a time. We do not have such cars in India. They could replace our “ Chhakdas “. We would, of course have to put up charging stations around the cities and towns to support them. Being non-polluting, they are worth a try. Next morning in Xian itself, we visited Wild Goose Pagoda. A pagoda is a structure built over some of the body remains of the Great Buddha such as nails, hair…etc. We also visited a giant size statue of a Buddhist monk around which a park has been built. Bazaars have sprung up around tourist sites and the same bargaining as in India is visible and audible here. There are two systems at work in China. The Communist and the free enterprise are managing to live cheek by jowl. As far as governance is concerned, it is Communist but in the field of Economics, it is free enterprise. This has the advantage that land acquisition or demolition of old buildings in areas to be re-developed is easy unlike in India. Free enterprise in a totalitarian regime that is supportive of business, has a great advantage unlike in a democracy where the wheels move rather slowly. On the flip side, a wrong decision, hastily implemented can result in a Himalayan blunder. Chances of course correction are less. In a democracy a Mamta can say Ta..Ta, Good bye to a Nano without bringing in any alternative means of economic development if she is able to carry her flock of sheep on a wrong path. In a totalitarian system, the fears and / or prejudices of the top man or men can result in a wrong decision. One of the young Chinese guides said that while her parents and grand parents were extremely appreciative of Mao tse tung for heralding the revolution, she was of the opinion that he lived beyond his effectiveness as a leader. According to her his two Himalayan blunders in his last days were :- 1) cultural revolution that took China back by a few years and 2) Allowing uncontrolled population expansion in the belief that more people meant more strength without taking into account the resources required to support a huge population. The present regime has had to impose a harsh measure of a one child norm to correct the earlier blunder. This public airing of a divergent opinion in front of a n alien audience like ours can be a propaganda stunt to show the kind of freedom available or that except from public platforms, one can air a dissident opinion without the secret service breathing down your neck. To me, it appeared to be the latter. We took a flight to Guilin and on arrival, we were taken to an educational institution where accupressure, physiotherapy are taught along with the use of typical Chinese herbs and oils. The total number of our group of tourists is 40 and all of us were individually attended to by a student of the Institute. We were given a bowl of hot water in which some herbs were put and asked to immerse our feet in it. Uncomfortable at first, later we got used to it. When the water got cold, some more hot water was poured. The massage, pounding and vibrating of our feet by manual means continued for an hour and a quarter. In my case my shoulders were also attended to. I have never felt so relaxed after a massage before this. The Institute’s director told me after inputs by the student attending to me that I had some problem with my lever that needed attention. One reslt of this massage was that next morning along with the stools, I passed a water coloured liquid. My sleep has slightly improved since. Checked into a hotel for the night and promptly fell asleep.

Pappa (Ramesh N Desai)

Travel Diary - Day8

We left the hotel in the morning for going to Bedaling and to see the Great Wall of China. There was excitement as we were actually going to see one of the seven wonders of the world that we had merely read about in our primary school text books. The spot that we went was mountainous in nature. Originally the plan was to traverse a part of the wall in a cable car. There was some problem with the cable car and we had to go up the wall by climbing it. The wall goes up on mountains and descends into valleys repeatedly. It is about 3200 kms in length and was built in the 3rd century B.C. Astronauts have reported that it is visible from space. It was built to prevent raiders from the north. Funny thing is that some of the areas from which the raiders came are a part of China now and some other areas are a part of a nation state which is not only friendly to China but is also following a similar system of governance. There is no more any danger from them. Time and Technology have changed the situation drastically. In hindsight, it appears that this garrgantuan expenditure of money, materials and labour could have been avoided. We have done actually it in India. We too had gaps in the mountains in the form of Khyber and other passes in the Himalayan range. Countless raiders came from these passes, whether it was the Hun or the Shak, Mongol, or Persian or the Arab, the British, the French, the Portuguese ( from the sea ). All of them followed a pattern. They came, sacked, looted and went back. Some of them stayed back. When they did that, it was an improvement. Earlier, they assumed no responsibility. They simply killed, looted and went back. Now they assumed responsibility for governance. When you settle down in a place and govern it, you form an attachment to it. This is what happened. The descendents of the Moguls, Huns, Shaks and others are today indistinguishable from other Indians. They added to the diversity of India. They brought some new systems, new arms, new culture and so on. They added some muscle. The English though were different. They did not stay back and settle down.. We are however colonizing their land in a sort of a tit for tat deal. Internally, in India, the Marathas headquartered in Pune, used to do the same sacking, looting, and killing before going back. As a first step, they were persuaded to stay put in their own place and receive money in the form of protection money without having to take the trouble of venturing out of their homes. This was a win-win arrangement. The populace avoided collateral damage in the form of destruction of crops when the raiders ran their horses on the standing crops and killing of innocent people apart from the men of the resisting armies. The raiders too used to suffer some losses. Some people who were trusted by both sides were appointed to collect the protection money from the populace and pass it on to the raiders. For areas contiguous to Pune, where it was easier for the raiders to play mischief, one fourth of the revenue was to be paid. For areas farther away, one tenth of the revenue was fixed. Those who disbursed one fourth were called “ Chauthes “ and those who did the same in respect of one tenth were called “ Deshmukhs “ or : Desais “. In return for this service, they were given “ Inami “ lands which could be passesd on from generation to generation but not sold. Still later some of the Maratha chieftains were persuaded to settle down in the lands that they used to sack and become local kings. This was a further improvement on the protection money system. Now, in return for the revenue, they had to provide service in the form of governance. Gaekwads of Baroda, Scindias of Gwalior and Holkars of Indore are some of the notable examples. Some of the descendents of these dynasties like Sir Sayajirao Gaekwad did remarkable work in development of their state and its people. For example, introduction of free and compulsory primary education, free libraries ( static in towns and mobile - bullock cart laden - for the villages ), local self government in towns and cities and partial democracy with a 50% elected and 50% nominated legislature, special fillip for women, scheduled castes and so on by nominating them to these bodies. I can vouch for this as my mother was a nominated member of the Mehsana Municipality back in 1930s. Each collective of people deals with the same situation in ways that suit their genius. In my view, ours displayed a long term vision. The point is that by becoming proactive rather than being reactive or isolationist, raiders can be turned around into benefactors over a period of time. Japan seems to have learnt this. On the flip side; but for this fear psychosis of the Chinese and their reaction to it, in the shape of building the great wall of China, we might have been deprived of one of the seven wonders of the world ! At the base of the wall, I bought an eagle made of silk cloth and bamboo frame with quite a long wing span. When thrown from a height, it can actually fly and swoop down on a target. Perhaps in the old days such eagles were used as mobile missile scarecrows. It can also be flown like a kite ( Patang ). Now it adorns my front verandah where real sparrows are fighting it ! On way back we passed by the village built for the 2008 Olympics. We saw it from the outside only. The view conformed with the visuals that we had watched way back in 2008. Next on our itinery was a visit to a jade factory. Jade, a semi-precious stone is found in abundance around here. The traditional artisans who used to operate individually have now been collectivized into a corporate body. They seem to be doing rather well. There were some large showpieces depicting yachts, animals, landscapes and so on. I bought a couple of trinkets. Thus ended our long day. Back to the Hotel for a well deserved sleep.

Pappa (Ramesh N Desai)

Travel Diary - Day7

We left Osaka in the morning and reached Beijing in the afternoon.Lunch was in the flight itself. On reaching Beijing, we were taken ina bus with a commodious underbelly to accommodate all our luggage. Itwas a 45 seater bus for the forty of us. I got the last seat which noone wanted. The last seat was more like a berth as there is no longera requirement for a passage in the end. In view of the fact that theroads were smooth and there were no bumps, the last seat i.e. theberth proved a boon for me. I could comfortably recline on it tocompensate for the deprivation of the afternoon siesta that I amaddicted to in my retired state. During the tour, we do sight seeingfrom morn till eve, rather a tiring schedule, but one does not want tomiss any site. So I found my solution. I converted a seeming threat toan opportunity and grabbed it. My co-tourists, used to the bumps inIndian roads were avoiding the last seat like a plague. I embraced itlike a lover. They later realized the wisdom in my step, but by thenit was too late. Thereafter the last seat became my permanent addressin all the buses that we travelled.Our first stop was the Forbidden City. It is really a condominium ofpalaces for the Emperor, his immediate family and the lesser gentry,not to mention the retinues of all these people. It is called theforbidden city as it was out of bounds for the Janata - the hoipollois - the common people. Only the priviledged - the VIPs couldenter it and even more priviledged - the VVIPs could reside in it. TheAdarsh Society scam in Mumbai tells us that we have our own version ofthe forbidden city. We have the advantage that we have a very largenumber of forbidden cities, thanks to our bureaucrats first creatingscarcities by their bans, prohibitions and delaying tactics followedby the use of discretionary powers of our politicians. Our governingclasses are not as blatant as the old timers' emperors but effectivelythey are more devastating than the former, even if in a subtle way.It was the next day after the Chinese revolution day and huge crowdsfrom all the moffusil areas of the country had come to see theforbidden city. The place was teeming with a multitude of people.There was hardly a space to move. It was in this millieu that I gotseparated from our group. Our tour manager from Kesari Travels usuallycarries a red flag in his hand with 'Kesari' written on it. That helpsus to locate our group. Unfortunately, today, there were any number ofred flags carried by the communist visitors. However hard I tried, Isimply could not locate our group. It took quite some time for theidea to sink in that I was really and truly lost on my first day in analien land without any local currency and my total inability tocopmmunicate in the local lingo. Al the road signs were in Chinese, alanguage even more unfamiliar than Greek and Latin to me. Thealphabets of the latter are at least vaguely familiar but the localalphabets seemed to me like ancient hieroglyphics carved on stone.However I did not lose heart and pushed ahead in the general directionthat we had been going. I knew that we had entered the forbidden cityfrom its rear gate and that we would emerge from the front gate intothe Tiananmen square. I felt heartened when I came across a group ofGujarati speaking N.R.I. s. I ascertained that I was headed in theright direction from their English speaking Chinese guide and pushedahead. Soon I emerged into the Ill-famed Tiananmen square where amultitude of protesting youngsters were shot down a few years back.This place too was no different from the forbidden city. The samecrowds. I approached a policeman but he did not know English nor didany of his colleagues nearby. I then did a crazy thing. I shouted intothe crowd, " Does anyone here Speak English? " Luckily for me a younggirl of Chi. Pallavi's age came forward. I told her my predicament. Ihad a 100 dollar note and a credit card but no Chinese money. Gettingback to the group seemed improbable. The only thing for me to do wasto head straight to the hotel where we had reservations. Fortunately Iknew the name of the hotel. I could take a taxi if she helped me withthe communication. There was also the problem of money. The taxidriver could not give me change, even if heaccepted dollars. The girl suggested a way out. We went to arestaurant that accepted dollars. We ordered a soft drink. I wasreally in need of one. The waitress not omly accepted the 100 dollarbill, she gave me the balance in Chinese currency i.e. Yuans alsoknown as Renminbi. Armed with this, I ventured out. One more problem.No taxis were available. The girl helped me to get a 3 wheeler, thetype that Santosh calls " the rat in the urban sewer that goes by thename of a road ". True to his species, he would not go by the meter.After bargaining, a sum was agreed upon and the girl left after I hadprofusely thanked her. The auto driver, like his Indian counterpart,went through a no. of lanes and bylanes, meandering his way throughthe traffic and deposited me at the rear gate of the hotel. Thereception confirmed that we had reservation there and helped me to getin telephonic touch with the local Chinese guide helping our tourmanager. Wherever we go there is always a local guide to help out thetour manager. To the relief of our tour manager, I told him that I wassafely in the hotel. Poor chap had been scouring the forbidden city insearch of me and worrying whether my cold, cough and wheezing haddeteriorated and I was lying in some corner. The group then came backto the hotel.After a little rest and freshening up, we proceeded to an Indianrestaurant for our dinner, followed by a stroll in the Tiananmensquare. After a leisurely stroll, we returned to the hotel and retiredfor the night.

Pappa (Ramesh N Desai)

Travel Diary - Day5&6

I forgot to mention that I spent my 77th birthday at Hiroshima. Allmy co-tourists wished me a happy birthday and Kesari Travels, the tourconductor gifted me a packet of chocolates. In the morning weproceeded from Hiroshima to Nara by bus. We visited the Todaiji templethere. In Hindi the suffix 'ji' is an honorific. In Japan, itsignifies a temple. We also took in a deer park. There are vendorsvending feed for the deer and the deer freely roaming about , nudgeyou with their noses and cajole you to feed them. We refreshedourselves with Tea, Coffee,juices etc. I took a can of the cider whichwas rather good.
We then went to Kyoto city which in the old days was the capital. Itis the only place in Japan where you see traditional architecture. Therest of Japan is so much westernized that but for the presence of theJapanese people in such an overwhelming number, you could mistake thecities for America. Japan has out-americanned the Americans in manyways, in many spheres. At Kyoto, we visited the Kiyomizu temple, theGolden Pavilion and the Nijo Castle that gives you an idea of howthings were for the powerful in the days of the Shoguns ( Warlords whowielded real power, while the Emperor was merely a figurehead ).
Next, we travelled to Osaka and visited the Osaka Castle. It wasinterestig to see the sliding wooden shutters. All the constructionwas wooden, beams, pillars, flooring - almost everything. They hadkept some statues in their traditional dresses in various postures togive one an idea of the kind of life, the inmates of the castle, led.In the evening we went to check in a hotel nearer to the airport toavoid waking up at an unearthly hour for catching the next morningflight to Beijing. One interesting fact is that people in Tokyo andother big cities in Japan prefer to use the public transport such asbuses, trains, metros etc. rather than personal cars and two wheelersfor commuting to and fro their places of work. They sacrifice personalcomfort willingly for a collective good in terms of lesser pollution,lesser traffic jams and so on. The public transport is sutablyefficient to aid them in this.
Japan is Japan because of the quality of its people. Verydisciplined, courteous to a fault, hard working enough to beworkaholics, forever innovating, improving things, be it products, beit services, be it systems. Productivity is a religion here. A shoefactory on strike does not stop production. It merely produces onlythe left shoe, so that the management cannot sell the shoes. Oncehowever, the accord is reached, the right shoe is produced in therequired number, so that sale can take place. There is temporarydislocation but no big loss to the organization which is mother toboth the employees and the management. Had Netaji Subhash Chandra Bosesuccededwith Japanese help and Japan had come in place of Britain, ourBengali friends would have been the first to rebel ! Such is thedifference in their collective characteristics.

Travel Diary - Day4

At Hiroshima, we went in the morning to the bombed out dome of abuilding that we all have often seen in the TV. Nearby is a river.When the heat following the dropping of the atom bomb becameunbearable, some people jumped into the river only to be boiled in thehot river. The only people who survived are those who were inbasements and did not venture out. They were saved from the radiation.In a radius of 3 kms, hardly anyone survived. Even the description ofwhat happened was enough to send a shiver down my spine, so many yearsafter the event. What surprised me was a comparatively muted hatredtowards the Americans for what they did to the Japanese in the war andduring the occupation. They adopted good American practices and evenbettered them. As a nation they have proved to be really "Sthitapragnya " as described in the Gita.
Next, we went to the Sadako memorial. Sadako was a 2 year old girlwhen the atom bomb was dropped. Till the age of 10, she was normal.Then, she developed Leukemia, as a delayed after effect of theradiation. Despite best efforts, she died. Sadako was fond of theJapanese craft of Origami (paper folding). During her illness she wenton making paper cranes in various colours. Cranes in Japanese lore,are symbols of fertility. Her story galvanised other school childrento do the same and to contribute their pocket money towards building acenotaph and the Sadako monument. It was indeed a moving story!
Next we went to a huge building which is the History Museum. Itcontains graphic account of what happened on that fateful day andafter. It also shows preserved human skin that peeled off people,nails, hair and so on. Photographs, artistic impressions of the eventwere all there. They have also marked out India as a nuclear bombmaker among others. We then went to a Peace Park created in place oftotally destroyed buildings. We came across an old man who hadsurvived unscathed. He works as an honorary guide and describes theevent and pleads with people to prevent such a happening again bybanning nuclear testing.
We had lunch at a restaurant run by a Maharashtrian. The previousIndian restaurants that we had been to were all run by Panjabis. I haddraft beer there and bought a bottle of Japanese liquor made fromwheat and rice. We then proceeded by bus to Osaka which took us fiveand a half hours. Checked into a hotel for the night.

Travel Diary - Day 2 & 3

We went to Asakusa Kanon temple in the morning. Temples here are anamalgam of Buddhist and Shinto faiths. Shintoism worships nature andits various elements. For example, Mount Fujiyama or 'Fuji San' as itis referred to, is worshipped as a God. Buddhism which came via Chinalater on was accepted as a more evolved religion but without giving upon Shintoism. Sort of best of both the worlds. The Japanese were verymuch under awe of the Chinese in earlier times. Their occupation ofManchuria appears to me to be a sort of delayed reaction to asuppressed inferiority complex. One great thing about the Japanese istheir quick recovery from setbacks and acceptance of reality.They havean enviable knack of converting threats into opportunities.
Another thing that impresses immediately is the spotless cleanlinessof roads, footpaths, buildings, public places and so on. This is aningrained characteristic of every individual. Nobody forces them to doanything but they do the right thing every time without exception.Rule of law is embedded in their brains and workaholism, a religion.
After the Meiji restoration they adopted westernization in a big wayand to make up for the lost time under the warlords, (known asShoguns), workaholism was adopted. Even though they are much moreadvanced than the West in many speres of life now, this culturecontinues. After seeing the Japanese at work as well as play, Mybeleif that it is the collective characteristics of the people thatdetermine how they will govern themselves, how they will develop,prosper or take to terrorism and negativism, is further reinforced.Whether it was the Emperor's rule or General MacArthur's hegemony,development went on unabated. To a lesser extent, we dispensation of Narendra Modi,progress has been unabated. The only difference that rulership makesis the extent to which it facilitates the fulfillment of the naturalurges of the people. Some Gujaratis alsohave this trait. That is why under indigenous outdatedmonarchy/feudalism or under the British or under the sham socialism ofNehru-Gandhi kind or under the present are better at it, some are worse while someare proactive and give a further fillip to the people.
Next, we went to a large mall. I had made purchases at the shoppingrow in the temple itself. Hence, all that i did was window shoppinghere. Next, we went for lunch at an Indian restaurant. After lunch wewent to the Toyota Museum. Here, the Universal design studio impressedme. The concept is that every product should be so designed thateveryone including the handicapped or the gadget unfriendly peoplelike me can use it. We saw a robot blowing a trumpet on voice commandsfrom a girl demonstrating the robot. I asked whether her husband toofollowed her voice commands. She said that she wished he did so alwaysbut the product is under constant modification and will, with age,become near perfect!
Then, we went to a theatre sort of place where we saw a formula onekind of race on the screen. What was exhilirating was that we got thesame thrills that the drivers were getting. Our seats were rattling,getting raised, tilting and so on as if we are riding the racing cars.It once again brought out the child in me, with all the fears,exhiliration and a ffeling at the end as if I had committed a greatact of bravery,despite knowing that it was all a make believe. Then I'drove' a vehicle as one does in a video game but the seat , steeringwheel, brake and accelerator were all there.
In the evening again we went to an Indian restaurant before turningback to the hotel. Next morning, we went by bus to Otemba park wherethere is a Buddhist Pagoda, then to Lake Hakone where we had a packedlunch. From there on to the railway station Mishima for the first ofour rides by a Bullet train. When one stands on the platform and onesees it sizzling past, one is scared at the incredible speed withwhich it zooms past. From Mishima, we went to Shin Osaka. Shin meansnew. We got in at 3-48 P.M. and covered nearly 450 km in 2 hours and15 minutes. We had half an hour's wait at Shin Osaka and then got atrain to Hiroshima, this time, covering 337km in one and half hours.There were fewer stops this time. Had dinner at an Indian restaurantand checked in to a hotel for the night.

Travel Diary - Day1

I have got internet access today hence the delay. We started from
Mumbai at 2-45 A.M. yesterday, the 28th September 2010. Anand dropped
me at the Sahar international airport at 11-30 P.M. on 27th i. e. 3
hours behore departure time. Previous day, Ankoor had received me at
Borivali rly. station at 11-45 A.M. His son Vihaan is 7 months old and
reminded me of Santosh's infancy. Neither afraid nor shy to go to
anyone, he is a great favourite of the neghbours as well. Ankoor has
taken some photos of him with me which he has forwarded to me.
Ankoor's younger brother Anand ( yes, he is Anand too ), between jobs
- from IBM to HCL was also at Ankoor's on that day. He is an MCA.
Ankoor helped me with reinforcement of my training on the use of the
camera. He also scanned Kesari Travel's itinery with a camera and
forwarded it to you and Ashesh. He has also given me two rechargeable
batteries along with a charger.
I shifted to Anand's at night. Ankoor dropped me. Ankoor who is quite
aresourceful person can turn threats into opportunities. When put in
an unenviable position of being jobless at the peak of the recession
he quickly took to teaching online and earned Rs. 40000 in a month's
time. Sam Pitroda is now his employer. Anand and Ankoor have agreed to
meet more often as was my wish. Both can benefit from each other's

We reached Hong Kong at 11-00 A.M. local time. We wrere straightaway
whisked off in a bus, bag and baggage for sight seeing. We saw on the
way a large no. of high rise buildings including for the lowest
income. group. Land cost is extremely high in view of its scarcity.
Most of HK is hilly and unusable We also saw the port, a long ropeway
and certain historic buildings. We went to Repulse Bay, Victoria Peak,
a wax museum similar to Madame Tussaud's. In the night, we saw alaser
show in the bay area. We went Aberdeen fishing village, which is where
the British started their historic association with HK. We also
visited Kowloon, the erstwhile high end district ( Read British only )
and its yellowish sandy beach. I went to bed early as next day, we had
to report at 6 A.M. for departure to Tokyo. So far allthe meals that
we had were at Indian restaurants which seem to be not doing badly.

Today we reached Tokyo in the afternoon with lunch in the aircraft.
Cathay Pacific are going to be our air carriers all through the trip.
Today we had only the evening which was spent at the Fuji Tower that
gives a good view of the surrounding area. We also saw live a 3 D TV
show. Tomorrow we shall see Tokyo sights.