Thursday, 31 July, 2008

Ho Chi Minh and Cu Chi

Vietnam was a big surprise. Clean, friendly, without much angst (have the tourist DoLLas helped overcome it?). Walked around for hours. Showed when I weighed myself back home, 2.5 kilos less in 5 days! My vegetarianism helped as I hardly ate anything. The typical SE Asian oil (palm oil?) is not something I will get used to in a hurry. I was busy absorbing everything - smells, food, people, poverty (in a respectable, clean and dignified sort of way) and surprising wealth. I had forgotten that the country was unified and it is communist. Well, except for the red flags with yellow stars waving about everywhere, one wouldn't notice.

We went to a few nightclubs, and I checked the vehicles parked on both sides of the road. There were Mercedes' and BMWs and nothing much else. Inside I was being my usual self and breathing 'aware' breaths to lessen the impact of ciggie smoke, otherwise my eyes start watering and I start sneezing, violently and continuously, anyway, I digress. So there were the Viet teenyboppers bopping in spiky haircuts, flashes of colour in their dark straight hair, tattoos and piercings galore, celebrating birthdays and beginning of weekends to black rap, DJed by a crew cut white guy. So I was smiling to myself, screwing my eyes shut to the strobe flash and had a what's happening here moment. Some far away black angst being celebrated here with so much enthusiasm! Have never understood it. Yes, they say music is universal but especially with regards to rap I disagree. What would nightclub goers in Lower Parel or Ho Chi Minh City and elsewhere have experienced that they swear by it so much?

The big surprise for me was that the Vietnam war was Vietcong Vs US and 5 other countries.

And I experienced the amazing Chi Tunnel system. 200+ kilometers of tunnels where, for close to 2 decades the resistance fighters lived (survived would be a better word) fought and made life hell for the US led 'liberation' forces. It was, to put it mildly, an extreme experience to crawl into a veritable foxhole for just 100 meters and imagine that 4000 odd men, women and children lived in the triple-storied tunnel structure 200 km long for 16 years and fought back with ingenious weapons, booby traps and lots of will power and not much else. Pointy hats off.

Tuesday, 29 July, 2008

Pump up the...

Filling fuel is painful now-a-days. I tend to gravitate towards the 'sada' fuel (88 Octane) every time a pump attendant asks. Now, why would I need higher Octane on my 11 year old carburettor car? Yes, a few would argue for it, but I suspect, there would be only a marginal increase in performance.

My regular, company-owned BPCL pump at Bandra-Kurla Complex has some strange rules. For the last few months they have stopped selling regular petrol and stock up only on Speed (88 Octane with additives) and Speed 97. There is no explanation for this strange behaviour. But inexplicably, they have a fuel additive on sale right there. So when I bought the additive and was about to add it to the tank before getting my weekly tank full, I discovered that only Speed was available. So now I'm stuck with a bottle of additive for the past few months and have to find a way to use it up somewhere.

Secondly, for the last few months, I have been arguing with the pump attendant and subsequently the manager, because when they swipe my credit card, they don't give me a bill, just a copy of my credit card receipt, which I am entitled to anyway. Thankfully last week, they gave me a printout which resembled a bill. Hope this moment of sagacity lasts.

Another thing that has quietly disappeared is what used to be a regular feature at better run fuel pumps. A bevy of attendants armed with squeegees and mops and suggestions to buy a dashboard cleaner and top up the oil and coolant, etc used to hover around expectantly. Where are those guys? Or will they appear only when a new customer care exercise is launched?