Sunday, 29 July 2012


Our tour guide warned about the emotional draw of this place,  “many have cried and some quickly rushed outside because they could not bear the mere thought of being there.” We got out of our cool and comfortable van into the blistering heat of Stone Town, the world heritage site of Zanzibar, and walked a hundred meters to our first destination.

We arrived at an old building of just two floors. The sign outside (in photo) announced ‘Former Slave Market Site’ sending me shivers. “What’s inside?” I thought ducking my head at the entrance that led to shiny stone steps down to the first floor which was an art gallery catering to tourists like us and hosting local artists who mostly painted on canvas with subjects ranging from still life to landscapes.

We were led to the basement through dark, dingy, narrow, and circuitous alleys that brought us to what was once the herding area of slaves.  “Zanzibar was the center of the slave trade in East Africa in the mid-19th century,” according to our travel guide.

While listening further to history, we had to sit on stone slabs around a room of 25 square meters with a ceiling height of just five feet. There weren’t any windows but simply small slits of space on the walls of very hard stone. Without ventilation, we exerted effort while breathing made even more difficult by the pervasive stench.

We learned that the whole perimeter held at least fifty slaves who were shackled to each other. Apparently, they were sold in bunches. The tide from the nearby sea would occasionally fill this tiny enclave. Disease and deaths resulted from the miserable living environment.  

Zanzibar today enjoys a healthy rate of tourist arrivals especially with the availability of Five-Star resort complexes frequented by citizens of nations who once colonized this island.  Until today the colonization continues and who knows, the covert forms of slavery as well. 

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Apple Juice

In my last trip, I had the luxury of choosing which airline to fly with. That's because not one among my favorites flies to my famed (?) destination. Hence, no frequent flyer credits despite the very long haul. I settled for a well-known carrier with global awards and distinctions.

Only to find out that they did not have any apple juice with them! What? Is this a religious thing?

That's right, I was not being a wimpy by asking for apple juice but I suffered from an unusual bout of hyperacidity just before boarding and throughout the sequence of flights. I had also discovered sometime ago that apple juice calms down the stomach acids unlike orange or tomato juices which I had been offered as substitutes.

It is not fun knowing that hyperacidity could be triggered anytime by the usual suspects in the food and drinks that you take. Those who have and had been there would know how unpleasant it feels -- air inside, occasional pain, gurgles, etc. Sure modern medication can stamp out the acids over time but one gets wary of taking alcohol and spicy food afterwards.

To many, it may only sound as if conscious eating habits are the way out of it but what about the pressures of life which are triggers just the same. I can still take alcohol but won't know what levels may be tolerated and that definitely rules out binge drinking. Oh!

Apple juice is thankfully okay.

Sunday, 26 February 2012


Sounds of an aircraft's engine whirring down to pause and then to stop. 

The first time I came across this book, I thought it was for highly-stressed individuals like myself -- who complain most of the time! I could have adopted its recommendations and led a different life than what I now have but alas, it was easier to say than do. However, the book is a valuable template for anyone seriously wanting a change in his life's ecosystems. 

It is an ideal and more so a goal to set one's self against.

Not for lack of any attempts but stepping back from the frenzy of career battles and of home struggles is not in my cards presently [No, I did  not consult a geomancer like some of my friends do] even if this is a tempting value proposition. I realize that there is an alternative and hence steeled myself to building an immune system ready to smother the pathogens associated with stress, anxiety, sickness, etc. 

I have posted an image of the book in case anyone might be interested.  

Ready for another week? 

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Back In Business

Eight months from my last post! Yes, I have been irresponsible and for that matter I admire friends like Nyl and Clyde who unabashedly announce short-term periods of rest from their blogspaces. I missed my own which I have always considered an opportunity for expression and sharing. It is trite but just the same, apologies.

If I hadn't been able to populate this blog, I have been reading those of others from my phone which I found very convenient. Found many of old friends on Twitter and kept updated with their daily chatter.

Entrance to Melbourne Park's Tennis Matches
The year began with my quest to complete visits to all tennis grand slam championship venues. This time, it was at the Australian Open where I was fortunate to have stayed for an entire week and seen some of today's sports heroes in the flesh. It was again an opportune moment similar to visits to Wimbledon and Roland Garros which coincided with official duties. Lucky indeed as I managed to snag last minute tickets for centre court matches. It was summer in Oz, Melbourne was too hot for most, with allergens flying through the air even around court side . Wham, I mean one, more to go -- the US Open at Flushing Meadows in NYC. Later this year? Someday, I might write about comparisons among venues.

To fans, the sound of rackets hitting balls was like listening to one's favorite tune and singing to it at the same time. I wasn't an exception. Only the interruptions of players' shrieks and grunts [read Sharapova's] disturbed the serene atmosphere where nobody moves or utters a sound until a natural break in the game. Some players I had seen and talked to at breakfast but they were the younger aspiring ones than those seeded. The future Rafas?

Next stop. Back in cold, cold London. Slept most of the way, nothing like reclining 180 degrees.

Returned to London in the dead of winter [end of Jan] where my colleagues said I had brought the bitter cold with me. Apparently, it was mildly pleasant until the day I arrived. Huh! I was actually fine with negative temperatures except that my strides had to be long and fast to get from place to place. No leisurely shopping, no hovering outside street cafes -- unless you'd like to court a nasty cold. Indoors was fine all the time. Surprisingly I was just okay with this quick five-day trip; no sadness about missing visits to other cities. Managed to take off hours just before the snow engulfed most of Europe.

After a week, I took the courage to revisit my blog. Peter is here.

Saturday, 9 July 2011


It is a matter of getting used to long-hauls. In a month's time, I was back in Europe arriving in London on a cold and rainy Summer evening reminding me that this is the place where all four seasons take place in a day. The next morning and setting all business aside, I hied off to Wimbledon where the annual tennis tournament was teeing off the following day. Hey, the All England Lawn Tennis Club is not anywhere around the centre of town. For those interested in visiting, a tube or train trip from London will take one to Wimbledon and a taxi ride from the train station is the best transport to the tennis courts which are a huge and complex affair. Very impressive and worthy of consideration as host of one of the world's grandslam tennis events.

Entrance to the All-England Lawn Tennis Club

Despite being in London for a week, I could not watch any of the matches as business meetings in London did not allow. I knew however that tickets have long been sold out through internet bookings which were raffled off to lucky buyers [I believe this is the same procedure for next year's Olympics - in London too]. It would have been my pleasure sitting in the stands along with famous celebs like Rory McIlroy. I could have stayed another couple of days or even a week just to watch a match or two and perhaps chance on any of the world's top four. Now, why did I not plan for that [But I already knew as early as January that I was visiting London!].

At the end of seven days, I left the moody London weather and took an early flight from Healthrow to Charles de Gaulle. I had enough of meetings. As usual, my mood completely changed soon as I set foot on the most chaotic airport of Europe. The sun was bright and the weather was hot [not just warm]. Why did I not take the Eurostar? I had wanted to really if only for the reason that I would be disembarking right in the centre of the City and could take one metro ride to my hotel. But the Eurostar's price had for the last couple of years been prohibitive compared to flying. I even got an award-flight out of frequent flyer miles. Now you know that this leg of my trip was not company-paid.

The brightest spot of this trip was witnessing the Paris Gay Pride march held last June 25. As early as 2pm, Boulevard Montparnasse teemed with marchers in street clothes and costumed, balloons, 'pride' flags, ten-wheeled trucks, and media fotogs and satellite dishes. Dance music blared from the trucks representing various associations joining the march. The composition of marchers was multi-faceted: political [e.g.,Youth of the Socialist Party, ActUp, Amnesty International], religious [e.g., Jews and Catholics], labour [e.g., police and fire men], social [e.g., parents of lesbians and gays, owners of bars], etc.

That day was significant because New York's state legislature had coincidentally approved the proposed legislation on same-sex marriage. On the other hand and as a major blow to the country's human rights record, the Assemblee National of France disapproved the same proposal in early June. Predictably, all Socialists voted in its favour but assemblymen from Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative party which held the majority in parliament thumbed it down. The theme of this year's march was therefore a warning to all politicians that next year's presidential elections would be a referendum on a candidate's public position in regard to this issue.

Hundreds of thousands attended the march which went all the way to the Bastille, their symbol of 'liberte, egalite, fratenite". While it was partying all over the bars and restos in the Marais, Chatelet, and around Hotel de Ville in the evening, the conversation was highly political converging on ways of attaining victory for their cause next year.

Sunday, 12 June 2011


Dream on. Everytime I come here, the memory of that wish instantly pops up. It was ma cherie who spoke of it once as we walked down that street admiring the well-preserved architecture, intently listening to conversation and laughter from guests of an ongoing party upstairs, impressed with the huge windows that opened into small verandas allowing the sultry summer air in the salon. "We could own one of these apartments", came from cherie's. My silent rejoinder, 'indeed'. That dream was expressed a couple of years ago and is revived every year, each time I go around this fabled quartier in this City.

Once, I walked into a real estate seller's office just at the corner and asked for their catalogue. It was fun as much as it was an exercise in making choices based on location, facilities, and price. Now, if only we had the money.  .   .   . Someday. And I hope soon.

Coming from cold weather, I felt my spirits soar (as always) while watching the shimmer of endless lights below just as the plane approached the City. Another deja vu. It was the middle of the last month of Spring then but the air seemed like Summer. May and September have been my favorite months here because of the beautiful weather and the endless outdoor activities possible without having to endure the extremes of sometimes the unbearable heat or the bitter cold. The Roland Garros tournament is held at this time.

I've succeeded in evading Winter no matter the frequent requests of ma cherie for us to spend Christmas here. But it may not be a bad idea after all. Summer would have been in full bloom by the time I got back at the end of June but it has always been our favorite time of returning.

Saturday, 14 May 2011


Where. One of our friends once asked ma cherie where in the world to go when looking for beautiful boys. Without thinking, he spewed 'Hungary'. It was my belief that his recommendation was based on the exoticism or mystery resting on former Communist states much more so those of once Russian republics. The fact that the Bel-Ami outdoor [read forest and running rivers] shoots are held in Hungary, also the locus of actor recruitment for these money spinning films, may have contributed to the idea.

In a year's time, I was back for my second visit to Budapest which enabled me to validate ma cherie's statement and look at the local citizens up close. Yes, there were pretty guys in all public venues [trains, coffee shops, shopping centers, even hospitals] and they could actually pass for movie actors in Bel-Ami or in the Hungarian movie industry if there is one. But. These boys looked like they came from a single race [read white] unlike the products of mixed [African, Asian, Latino] races that abound in cosmopolitan cities of Europe as Paris, London, or Amsterdam. This observation  led me to hypothesize that there might be undertones of racism which scared me once in Berlin or of simple disdain for peoples who are not Caucasian in appearance or origin.

As I stayed at a busy branded hotel in the city's center catering to many tourists, I had a perfect laboratory for proving my investigation. Comparing the tone of speech and body language in the interaction between front office staff and guests of different nationalities led me to conclude that there is a built-in attitude reserved for customers of different races. I could have been a victim of discrimination myself had I not been aware and prepared for confrontations.

Everyday, I would take a 30-minute trip consisting of a train-bus combination and noticed that despite the congestion inside the transport, the passengers would stare at those who don't look like them and I found very few of non-whites. They didn't smile as easily and there were only two occasions of friendliness that I came across: a young mother who responded to my inquiry on directions and an old woman who volunteered information when she noticed my perplexity while looking at a tram route map. Hotel personnel who would have been trained on fine hospitality did not flash those dazzling smiles no matter how insincere but were versed on the language of 'how are you doing today' or 'I hope you enjoyed dinner'.

Hungary's Parliament building
 Gothic and rococo architecture shows the beauty of a country struggling to remain afloat with budget cuts so as not to follow the Greece-Ireland-Portugal example. It has opened up to the West [especially the USA] but may have a long ways to go in accepting Asia. Their transport system is wonderful -- trains, trams, and buses are punctual and frequent; clean and orderly -- although their underground terminals may need sprucing up. The airport is of world class. It appears that peace and order are not a problem in the capital. The suburbs are homey, typically of Europe.

There are reasons to visit and not-to. Are the boys/guys worth the visit? As if that were the purpose of my own visit. Yes, they are pretty and different. But do you want a date with someone whom you can't really talk to? The Bel-Ami films are always dubbed or subtitled to appeal internationally but interpreters shouldn't be brought along on dates. How does dating someone of another tongue actually work? Will that lead to sex just as well? Trying that out in Hungary may be uninspiring because their language is off-kilter to English and does take a while to learn. Takers?