Rajinikanto

(A Korean music video set to an Indian pop number)

The man even has a fan site in Japanese. But it does not seem to end there. Indian popular culture’s (especially our movies) creeping globalisation has East Asia squarely in its sights. Come to think of it, not particularly surprising. We are the largest producer of ‘pop culture’ after the West. We have a domestic market of a billion people, give or take, for the juggernaut to feed on. There are a large number of people in Asia who find Indian cultural elements at least as interesting as Western ones (and probably less alien).

Ergo – India’s new sphere of cultural influence.

Bruce Lee and Me by Brian Preston

And, as is usual with life, I have just read another travel book that forces me to contradict the position I took in my last post. I now realise that there is another way to get a good travel book. Which is to have a good travel theme (plus of course, the obligatory, good writer).

Preston explores the world of oriental Martial Arts in this book. Which is a cool subject to write about, since it probably meets all of the criteria of your average avaricious publisher. The subject is of interest to many people across the world (“more people interested means more people buy the book, you dummy”), it involves travelling to ‘exotic’ places, has multiple situations that allow the writer, and therefore the reader vicariously, to careen from undisguised scepticism to wide-eyed wonder within the same page and offers the writer numerous opportunities to take digs at himself (a travel-book staple these days, methinks).

And for all of those reasons, it works. Read it.

Movies over the weekend

Balan, the barber in the one-horse village of Melekavu is the protagonist of the Malayalam movie (Kathaparayumbol – ‘when the story is said…’) that I saw over the weekend. Loved it. The story of a little man who wants to lead a simple & happy life circumscribed by the lines of common decency and humility. And how, a modern world, strident in its search for instant fame & fortune hassles the poor guy. Scripted with wonderful comic timing and performed with real prowess – both by Sreenivasan. Like all great comedies, it is the thread of pathos just beneath the surface that really elevates it. If you get to see it, go for it. If you cannot understand Malayalam, take a mallu along for translation. Or try for a sub-titled version. Either way, I guarantee you, you will enjoy it. Or you could wait for its hindi version, although going by past track-record, I would not recommend it. Titled “Billoo Barber”, the Hindi version has Amisha Patel (for God’s sake!) playing the barbers wife.

UTV’s new channel, World Movies is another source for good films. Over the last week, i watched a Japanese movie, Hana & Alice, in bits & pieces and never got around to watching it through. An interesting movie set in urban japan, it is a simple story of two school-girls, childhood friends and how one of them falls in love. Nothing dramatic, but fun. And for someone who has never been to japan, but is kind of obsessed with it, this was riveting stuff.

Movies are an interesting window to the world.

Using chopsticks

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I must have been about 4 or 5 years old, when I sat with my father in a darkened movie hall watching a grainy-white documentary that showed strange men using sticks to pull up strings off the table to stuff it in their mouths. And I loved it right away. By the time I got to my teens, I could not think of anything more sophisticated than insouciantly picking up my roast pork with chop sticks while holding a conversation with an extraordinarily gorgeous Japanese lady. Of course, it hasn’t happened quite that way (the Japanese lady part that is) – but I still think it is way cool to eat with chop sticks. So, a few years ago, I decided to learn how to do it.

It is pretty simple really. Here is how you do it.

You grasp the chopsticks within the fingers of your right hand (ie. if you are genetically left-handed; otherwise, hold it in your left hand). Then push them into a bowl of noodles (always a bowl, never a plate). The chopsticks will immediately come off your fingers. Next, you hold them a bit more steady and try to dig out the noodles harder. The whole caboodle will come out of the bowl and fall on the table. Keep repeating this till your companions at the table (in my case, a wife and two incredulous little boys who could’nt understand why they were not allowed this kind of fun) ask you to go away. Do this for about a month. You will crack it. I did – so I know you can too.

Yup, now I can hear the question. Is there a simpler way of learning to use chopsticks? Unfortunately, No. But, the good part is, this will seem really simple when you realise you need to use chopsticks and the chinese soup spoon simultaneously to get the sang-froid look. That, my friend, is another story.

Click here for all my posts on Chinese Food>>

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(Both photos in the post, courtesy: http://www.chinatownconnection.com/how-to-use-chopsticks.htm)

Yotel

The biggest luxury in long-distance travel is the possibility of a fully flat bed to sleep on. I have done too many bus & air journeys to now crave for this in quiet desperation, everytime I have an overnight trip. So when flat-beds came along in the business class of long-haul airlines, I was an early adpoter, scrounging around for any loose mileage point to get an upgrade. Later, I found flat-bed configurations in inter-city buses in India. But since most of them are crummy, unkempt buses, I am not too enthusiastic (although the idea is fundamentally appealing).

Yotel is a chain of hotels that combine the virtues of business class flat-beds with those of Japanese capsule hotels.  Dreamt up by Simon Woodroffe, the founder of Yo Sushi!, these hotels promise to give the weary long-haul traveller a decent & inexpensive place to sleep while in transit. The first hotel opened in Gatwick. The next is due to open in Heathrow. Eventually they plan to open these hotels all across London. Will they work away from an airport? I dont know.

Click here for a slickly made promo video.

Or, check out this sneak preview video from Youtube.

Best Hotels by Travel + Leisure : Where is Aman?

Another ‘Best Of’ list. Travel + leisure magazine has announced the best of tourism for 2007. Included are the Best Hotels, Best Cities, Best Islands, Best Airlines, Best Cruises, Best Car-rentals, Best Tour Operators and so on.

The big Indian story of course is that the Oberoi Udaivilas comes in as the Best Hotel in the world. The really interesting news for the cognoscenti is the absence of any Aman Resort in the World’s top 100 list for 2007. Intrigued, I checked out the 2006 list – Amanpuri had come in at a low 72nd rank last year. Is this a reflection on the properties of Aman or on the readers of T+L?

Tradition in clothes

One of the definite casualties of the sameness world we are creating, is the traditional garment. Almost a decade ago, on a trip to London, I was standing in front of Charing Cross station gazing at an unending stream of black wool with the occasional light blue, when suddenly I was struck by this huge burst of colour. I turned to find an elegant African lady resplendent in the most colourful (traditional african) dress I have ever seen. Made me a convert to the idea that the world needs to desperately cling on to its traditional clothes.

Whether it is the Cheongsam in East Asia, the Saree in the Indian sub-continent or the Thobe in Arabia, all of them impart that element of ethnic cultural elegance that no import can ever do. It seems to me that we must do everything to ensure that these clothes remain used as practical daily-wear.

And it was with this thought that I bravely bought a traditional chinese shirt/jacket on my last trip to Singapore. I wanted to get this wonderful, wine red creation, but in the face of strong opposition settled for a blue one. Love it.

While on the subject of clothes, here is a video of a Chinese fashion show in Shanghai. Not that this video has much to do with the subject of this post. But the women look nice, the colours bright and the Bund in Shanghai is where I plan to go to write my book. So…

(Incidentally, for all those following the huge controversy over setting up Special Economic Zones in India, did you know that the Bund in Shanghai was probably the world’s first SEZ).

In Japanese

The Katakana alphabet is part of the Japanese writing system. Apparently, this is how my name Hari looks rendered in Katakana.

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I got this courtesy a website. For all I know, Philip Ronan, the owner of the site and the translator did not like me and it actually says “stupid Indian jerk”. But I am a trusting sort of guy, so I am sure it says “Hari-i” as the site claims.

Teppanyaki in India

Teppanyaki (鉄板焼き) is a type of Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook food. The word “teppanyaki” is derived from teppan (鉄板), which means iron plate, and yaki (焼き), which means grilled”, says Wikipedia

Teppanyaki is that point where a lot of my “lifestyle obsessions” come together. This is where my love of east asian cusines mixes with my fascination with the spareness of japanese presentation, melts into the warmth of having a social meal around a fire and rounds off with the theatrical convivality of its chef/presenter. I love the alchemy.

Last night I had a great Teppanyaki meal at the Zen restaurant in Leela Palace hotel in Bangalore. Continue reading