Good Morning Vietnam!

September 30, 2009

fa2ff740167beed7a874f361a5dc6833Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon,  is vibrant and colorful, inhabited by a people brimming with energy, always in a hurry, making their livelihoods on the road, always a cacophony of sounds, a mad rush somewhere, where money, goods and services are always changing hands, and yet, there are places, pockets of oasis where old men practice taichi, housewives gather to chat, and young couples sit on park benches under tree lined lanes holding hands and peering into each other’s eyes.

I look forward to all the meals – I’ve had great morning baguettes, noodle soups for lunch and amazing crab spring rolls during dinner. In fact, Vietnamese cuisine is a revelation – it is subtle and delicate, well seasoned and well balanced (with herbs & citrus), replete with the obligatory mystery sauces & meats.

Walking down the streets of Saigon is a sensory overload; Of countless motorcycles for whom there are no rules, and whose constant honking is de riguer and may actually be necessary, and we fear for our lives!! Of street hawkers cooking delicious pho and barbeque-ing marinated pork soon to be wrapped in lettuce and drizzled with fish sauce; Of old buildings whispering past dreams and solemn secrets, while newer architecture fills the saigonese with the hope that the country has shaken off its war scars, and is looking ahead to the future.    

We went to the mekong delta, and beyond the floating markets and quaint villages, observed that this mightly river and its tributaries still held the lifeline of people living along its banks, much like the ganges or the bosphorus or the amazon, with its mom & pop cottage industries, its children bathing and its women doing the laundry.  At times, as we fell silent while making our way down the river, and as we looked out of the boat, life would drift ever so slowly by.  Nothing but the gentle drone of the boat’s engine.



September 15, 2009

  • How is a street prostitute like a department-store Santa?
  • Why are doctors so bad at washing their hands?
  • How much good do car seats do?
  • What’s the best way to catch a terrorist?
  • Did TV cause a rise in crime?
  • What do hurricanes, heart attacks, and highway deaths have in common?
  • Are people hard-wired for altruism or selfishness?
  • Can eating kangaroo save the planet?
  • Which adds more value: a pimp or a Realtor?

    The new book is out by the authors of “Freakonomics”, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.  Levitt teaches at Chicago, and Dubner writes for the New York Times.

    Interestingly, the subtitle is “Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance”.

    Fascinating India

    September 1, 2009



    I could not get more stressed in any other place than in India, where all five senses would get assaulted and held constantly on high tension, 24 hours a day. Running the gamut on both extremes, an experience in India cannot be  described easily – nothing is simply good or bad, black or white, right or wrong. 

    It is a poor country with an enormous upside.  It is a culinary tradition that produces stunning gastronomic creations. It is the pollution in the cities that is dustier, more pungent, more life threatening than any other country. It is a history that is at once proud and influential and peerless.  It is schizophrenic, psychopathic, psychedelic, kitsch and vibrant –  all rolled into one. It is a delicate balance of tradition and modernity, of inertia and momentum. 

    India is at a crossroad. It produces world class scientists and world famous entrepreneurs, its blurgeoning middle class drives its economy and wields tremendous power in the world’s largest democracy, and those who I know, are a gregarious, passionate people. 

    And yet, a vast majority might be left behind.  As the country splutters-stops-splutters, inching ever forward, signs are there for the love/hate afflictions that globalization brings to a country, still protected, but inevitably forced to open up, the mammoth task at hand is to better the lives of the hardcore poor, and present viable & real hope to the teeming millions.  I do not feel the energy of purposefulness I felt in Guangzhou walking around Delhi, in fact, many seem to be mindlessly & senselessly ambling about – not strange when you slog through the urban landscape working for a few rupees a day. I see the elevator boy who pushes buttons for a living; the man who stands between you and ticket counter, relaying pieces of paper; always, there is an “extra” man or woman in any establishment whose functions are so trivial it defies reasoning, only that “in India” it is life.