Friday, May 25, 2007

Facebook et al: A reason to get out more? OR the catalyst for a better social life?

Like the opportune jump onto the last train to 'I don't want to be a social outcast' before the doors shut, I've finally joined up to a social networking site. Yep and it’s the ubiquitous Facebook. I've been trying not to join up to these groups because to me they're just one more way of keeping you addicted to online life (bar blogging of course!) and more importantly sans a real life! And then there's always the possible threat that Murdoch's cold steely fingers could get into this pie (as if Myspace wasn't enough!) thus helping him control another little bit of our lives that might have some shred of independent thought left in it.

But that all changed once I discovered most of my school friends were on it and I've been hooked for a month now! Then there's always pioneering stuff like this that keeps aquisition-hungry media conglomerates like Newscorp at bay. I do feel for those whose generation have missed it, but there does seem to be hope for even them if the latest trends are to be believed.

The other reason I had for avoiding these groups was the fact that I wouldn't have much in common with whoever I'd be adding to my ever-growing and mostly anonymous list of 'friends', again that all changed when I signed up for Facebook. My new dilemma is now that I've re-discovered all these people I knew from school I wasn't sure I have much in common with them either. For starters I never really took part in much of school life (whether or not that's my fault is debatable) and I certainly wasn't the 'Go-to' guy in my year. So to me adding to my Facebook list of friends as great as it is (because only people you know get added and only after they've approved your request to add them too) it all seems in vain, almost like I'm (and I know I'm not alone in thinking this!) trying to relive my school years in the lost hope that I might redeem myself now.

Alas if any of them care enough to actively WANT to know me rather than be my "pity friend" I'm all ears but hey I think I've complained enough - and I realize its a highly unattractive character flaw - so let's get back to what this post was suppose to be about.

Is there really anymore room for more social networking sites, I mean we've got the likes of bebo, meebo, Hi5, Myspace and these are just the ones we recognize as typical social-networking groups! For example some of you might have noticed my "Proud member of the London Reporters and Journalists meetup group" tag on the right, yep that’s another kind of networking group and its sole purpose is to get people acquainted with each other in real life according to interest groups.

So there's none of this "hey thws! I'm doing great, working for a big multinational firm and travelling" malarkey without the distant possibility of ever meeting up in real life unless of course you are socially...well…worth it to be honest. Man am I bitter and insecure about something and I just realized I don't have to post any of this but then again it sure as hell beats therapy!

In conclusion:

Much like life itself, your online social experience is whatever you make of it, if you're a twisted loner and are constantly trying to define yourself in real life, chances are its going to manifest itself in your online profile. And if unlike me you consider yourself relatively less insecure and happy then consider yourself bumped off my Friends list! Go be happy somewhere else!

Aaaaanyhoo hope y'all enjoyed my self-deprecating take on online socializing, I certainly enjoyed putting my uncommon vocabulary to use (or not as the case maybe). I'll have some material to write about possibly tomorrow and I'm hoping it'll be more upbeat, I've got my finals over the next two weeks and I'm still job-hunting so things could get a little sporadic...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

First political rant of oh 7!

One of the most sobering amateur anti-war music videos I've seen, almost as good as the original! I think this sets the tone nicely...

Hey gang! I've got a few bones to pick with the status quo of the world today. I should warn one and all that its 2am and I've been working late and am strangely feeling a strong urge to write about stuff out of pure spontaneity.

First off, what the hell is happening in Lebanon and Palestine...again? If you can't find a common enemy you start a campaign of infighting, is that how it works? I'm going out on a limb here and guessing this aint just an Arab problem and I'm not so sure its a Muslim one either. I'm tempted to call it a territorial problem but that's yet another simplistic label so I'm going to go along with an identity crisis.

A Natural end

When an entire people lose their sense of direction and belonging in life, what we are currently witnessing is its full and natural end. The Palestinians have been pushed into so many different corners by ever-enlarging Jewish settlements that places like Gaza have, for lack of a better simile, crossed boiling point a long time ago. And its only natural for this sentiment to spill over to poor indefensible and easily influenced areas such as refugee camps in northern Lebanon albeit amongst a minority who are conveniently labelled as Islamists/jihadis/Islamist militants (pick and mix folks its a free-for-all on the 'ragheads' right?!) or are in one way or another linked to Al Qaeda. And yes I know not all of them are homegrown, they're a mixed bunch from around the Arab world but thats not what I'm driving at.

Sure they're brutal, sure they're not helping their cause by apparently terrorizing the camps and launching attacks against a sovereign country like Lebanon, but remember this, they are a product of injustice, indifference and rightful indignation towards the powers that be that have kept them there without even a hope of a better life. At the risk of sounding like a religious fanatic myself, I will say this much. If Muslims just once, looked within themselves - as should every other sound humanbeing by the way - and did some serious moral, spiritual and dare I say ego cleansing, we would at least be at peace with ourselves, more than enough to not only be proud of who we are but positively confident and constructive in this world and I'm sure other races, religions and beliefs would...well trust us more as much as we would respect them!

I'm no apologist for outright criminality like the killing of innocent lives and equally when lives are destroyed not physically but mentally. You can read into this what want, but if your belief system is so screwed up and your moral bearings are so off the charts that you switch what's right for wrong and what's wrong for right, then seriously don't blame the mysterious 'other' for what's happening in this world, you've no need to look any further than yourself.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The lost tales of a backpacking slacker...

Ok, I guess I really should post some photos from the remaining days of my travels last year, besides it beats writing a long-winded entry describing all these places, so here they are in sort of chronological order:

At the Chinese New year (2006) celebrations

along the Singapore riverside

Catching my coach ride to Kuala Lumpur the next day, the

AeroLine coach service stops and starts from the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel in downtown Singapore (Note: I'm not actually running here, I'm just imitating the logo on the coach and it was a good coach ride at around Sing$ 20 one way)

Crossing the bridge connecting the Southern-most tip of the

Malaysian peninsula with Singapore

Important immigration information for travellers:

As you are literally crossing the causeway into another country you will need to have your entry permit slip to hand (the slip you fill in and the half of it you are given at the port of entry into Singapore by immigration) along with your passport if you don't need a visa to visit either Singapore or Malaysia. The immigration points of both countries are on their respective country's end of this causeway and so you'll need to get off your mode of transport twice to go through both immigration points (once for each country when coming or going).

Now here's the important part, when travelling in a party such as on a coach (especially on a coach!) and when you get off at Singapore immigration make sure you fill out your exit permit well BEFORE you are processed by immigration as any delays here will mean you missing your coach ride or equivalent (especially if its a cheap company!) that waits for a reasonable amount of time for most (not all!) of its passengers before continuing on its way across the causeway to Malaysian immigration. That's why they make you take all your luggage off the coach just in case!

I was lucky enough to go with a reputable company such as AeroLines as they were kind enough to wait for me because I didn't fill in my exit permit even though it was given to me when I got onto the coach! The reason? Because I didn't think I would need to go through Singapore immigration, not until I actually FLEW out of the country! Alas I didn't make the same mistake when it came to Malaysian immigration on the other side. But on my way back from Malaysia to Singapore I used a cheap coach company and was left behind because I didn't fill in my NEW entry permit for Singapore before getting processed and had to go to the end of the long line of people and start over again! It was no biggy getting back to my cousin's place because Singapore's so small.

As a side note the Malaysian immigration personnel seemed really relaxed compared to the Singaporean ones (that could have changed by now!). Also if you intend to bring the equivalent of your local Blockbuster's in pirate films/music and any other counterfeit products into Singapore, lets just say its not a good idea. But a few fake designer goods or other things should be ok and if the authorities are reading this I'm not condoning purchasing fake goods in any shape or form.

So to summarize (as if I ever needed to):
  • Fill in your entry and exit permits BEFORE you get processed by immigration at either end of the causeway and have everything that's immigration-related in order

  • If you're caught with counterfeit goods in bulk especially DVDs/CDs the penalties are high

My lunch on the AeroLines coach service to KL (this is not standard so you won't get this on a cheaper coach services but I could be wrong)

Welcome to KL! My first night in the city and I made a beeline from my homestay (hostel) to the Petronas towers to see them by night after a really cheap yet quality dinner (It was some kind of Chinese chicken with beansprouts in blackbean sauce) with some exchange students visiting the city

My breakfast (mmm...satay chicken skewers) before going on the official Petronas towers tour, the tour is free by the way but you need to queue up really early in the morning to get a shoo-in

The Petronas towers by day with a touch of the Chinese new year

atmosphere in the form of lanterns hanging across the street

One of the many views from the bridge connecting the two towers,

I was hoping we could go right to the top but security's real tight here

While exploring the rest of the city I stopped by the National Mosque near the old KL train station to pray, it looks pretty plain from the outside but it's really quite pretty inside and this is coming from someone who's seen many mosques and other Islamic architecture from around the Middle East!

I'm no architect but I do love the straight clean lines and how this Bauhauesque theme works well with the functionality of traditional Islamic design (but I could be biased because I'm Muslim!)

The main prayer hall under one large dome

The Sultan Abdul Samad building,

this is where the Federal court was housed before it was moved

Petaling street aka Chinatown where I bought a pair of Levis 501 jeans; Docker's Khaki pants; 2 t-shirts and a seemingly nice pair of blue suede Pumas (they were 1 size too small because my size was sold out and I couldn't resist buying them for £6!) for around £15!

The busy main street of Chinatown

The next day I went to the Batu caves on the outskirts of KL with another backpacker, the caves aren't all that spectacular inside but getting to them is quite a task and is part of worship for many Hindus oh and that big gold statue is apparently the world's biggest Lord Murugan statue

Next stop: Pulau Penang!

I took this shot from the coach en route to Penang island to illustrate how much of the ancient jungles in the Malaysian countryside is being destroyed to make way for vast palm plantations - Malaysia is the world's largest producer of raw Palm oil

Looking Westwards and you can just make out the coast past those mountains

Crossing the Penang bridge/causeway into Georgetown, capital of Penang

The view from my hotel room balcony the next morning (The hotel Mingood - I'd recommend this hotel because the staff are really helpful and homely). The tall building behind those houses is the Komtar and it's part of a shopping complex, its the tallest building on the island

Breakfast at the rooftop restaurant at the hotel and real halal beef bacon rashers!

Artistically positioned antiquated rickshaws at the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion near my hotel

Different generations of transport in Penang in front of a mosque

built by early Bengali settlers

Lunch! Chicken curry, garlic naans, lentil soup (or daal) and a nice tall glass of ice cold Mango Lassi! You gotta love the food here!

My feet started to hurt as I toured the nearby area on foot (courtesy of those ill-fitting Pumas!) so I hired a trishaw for the princely sum of RM16 if I remember correctly, these things are purely ceremonial these days and mostly tourists ride on them

The next day I met some more backpackers to hang out with and check out the rest of the island and so we went to quite a few places like Penang hill (above) early in the morning where you get amazing views of the island and surrounding sea because the air is so clean at that time of day. We also went to the one and only Snake temple aslo known as the Temple of the Azure Sky (its full of poisonous snakes just hanging around !) and the Penang butterfly farm which sounds boring but had some really interesting exotic species of not only butterflies but strangely, tortoises, squirrels and millipedes!

After touring the island in the taxi we hired for the day we ended up just chilling out on Batu Ferengi beach which isn't the most spectacular of beaches - I've seen better - but it served our purpose!

Another shot of Batu Ferengi beach

On a boat in rural Bangaldesh crossing one of the many rivers that criss cross this country, this was taken in my Dad's home district in the South of the country

And to neatly finish off my whirlwind photo tour

of South-East Asia (which really did take 2 weeks) here's a fitting sunset from Bangladesh

Hopefully you can put two and two together to fill in the gaps between the end of the trip and now!

This better have been worth it...Mybrid! It took me forever to get the apparently 'new' blogger to format the pictures and text and even now they're still looking screwed up.

Friday, May 18, 2007

One hell of a sabbatical!

'It’s been ages' sounds like a bit of an understatement seeing as I practically dropped off the radar since last February. And I kept telling myself I must get back to writing more meaningless crap about myself so perfect strangers can read about it. A strange feeling of loss came over me over this period because I just didn't feel motivated enough to get back to blogging and like an ever-increasing pile of dirty dishes it only got worse as time went on. I sure as hell know I wouldn't be the first or last blogger to feel this way and eventually be banished to the wastebasket of the Internet!

Well this feeling made me even more determined to revive this little niche I etched out for myself on the net. I realize I never quite finished my temporary travelogue that I sort of maintained when I was in South-East Asia so I'll do my best to help bring everyone up to speed on that and everything that followed as briefly and concisely as possible.

I travelled to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from Singapore and also to the Island of Penang just off the West coast of the Malaysian peninsula and I loved every single moment of it because it was just me and the road most of the time and didn't have to stick to other people's timetables although strictly speaking I did have to get back to Bangladesh to join my parents before our flight back to London. I'm tempted to post more pictures but that'll mean I'll have to give context to them all and I did say I'm keeping this short, besides I can’t bothered!

After getting back to London, we came home only to find out the hot water and heating system had completely broken down, it looked like our gas boiler had blown up whilst we were away and this was in the middle of a freezing February. So 2 weeks a small space heater and a £2000 heating system overhaul later we were nice and toasty. I started working part-time and began studying again for my final year retake which would start in October but I didn't want to leave anything to chance.

On the 14th of May my sister had her first baby and I became an uncle for the first time and I couldn't wait to see the little 'critter' so I started making loose plans on going to visit her in Connecticut in the summer.

From April onwards I helped out with two of my cousins' weddings and for the remainder of my summer I volunteered to work as a freelance reporter for my local newspaper for work experience as a career in journalism is where I see my life going and it being the raison d'ĂȘtre for this blog - another great motivator for getting back to blogging! I also managed to finally steal myself away from all this for 10 days and visit my sister and brother-in-law and the new 'addition'.

After quite a productive summer I was back at Uni and between then and now quite a few things have changed in this world, but I won’t bore you by back-paddling through all that because I’m sure all my esteemed readers don’t want to be reading stale news from an armchair warrior, there’s enough time for that later!