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Bouldering at Hampi, India

temple A climber’s heaven on Earth
The bus came to a stop at Hospet at 7:30 am Sunday morning. I slept fitfully for the previous eight hours, to say the least, having sat up-right while the bus rumbled over less than adequate roads at greater than appropriate speeds. No matter, removed from air conditioned taxis, hotels, and offices, I feel I was finally experiencing India.

From Hospet, I engaged the first auto rickshaw that caught my attention, negotiated a price, and set off for Hampi. The rickshaw driver took me to the Suresh Guest House, a hotel/restaurant owned by his uncle B. Nagesh, neatly placed half way between the market and the river. Quiet, safe, inexpensive, and with good food, it was a pleasant stay.

kai bouldering

Hampi is a climber’s paradise. A small tourist town of 2,500. Hot, relatively dry, interwoven with a network of rivers and streams and granite boulders for miles and miles and miles, literally from horizon to horizon. I never imagined anything like this could exist. Ten lifetimes of climbing.

I have met so many incredible people on this journey, in Japan, and now in India. But only when I slow down and make time to talk do I engage and get beyond handshakes and smiles. I have enjoyed conversations with hotel employees, guest house owners, travel agents, and some travelers like myself. The locals in Hampi are very personable, beyond the interaction of sales. They seem truly interested in those who pass through their shops, hostels, and homes. They learn your name and do not forget. They wave on the streets. They smile, if you smile first.

jumping at the reservoir

In particular, I have spent a lot of time with a rickshaw driver Veerish. My first day in Hampi he helped me find an elderly, toothless man who rents crash pads for climbers. I learned that his son, a climber, had died a few years ago, the gear he rents formerly that of his son. Initially I engaged Veerish as my guide, but we quickly became friends. Having never guided climbers before, we had a great deal of fun looking for climbing problems together, using a dismally poor map. Afternoons were spent swimming at the local reservoir. He taught me about the local area and I helped him with improve his swimming technique.

Veerish

Veerish has diabetes. He must spend 170 rupees ($4.25) each day for insulin. When I mention him to the locals, they know of his situation. They shook their heads, saying he will never marry because he is diseased and has difficulty making a good living. But he is in fact getting married in just twelve days. Veerish is the son of a farmer and while not impoverished, is quite poor by Indian standards. If he misses his shots for just one day, his skin boils and becomes infected. A travel agent’s brother used to store Veerish’s medicine in the soda fountain fridge. I offered that if he is ever without insulin due to lack of money, to contact me. I know there are millions like this in India, and the government helps where it can, but they do not always come through.

The owner of my guest house was upset with me this morning as last night I did not return. He said he had looked everywhere for me, and called my mobile several times. My phone did not work, reception switching from an emergency network to a valid connection every other dozen meters, depending upon my elevation and line-of-site to the horizon.

temple art

I had crossed the river with the last ferry at 6:30 pm, showed photos of the American Southwest to Veerish, and then stayed at his home across the river. I got up at 5:30 am to climb before the heat, then came back around noon. I did not know there is a penalty if I am hurt while under his care. But this was more personal, for he was truly concerned for my safety. A cultural lesson learned.

I enjoy watching people bathe in the river, morning to night. A time for men, women, and children to play as much as they do wash. Elephants too, their human companions small in comparison and yet masters of their movement. The monkeys are a bit aggressive, likely encouraged by careless tourists. But monkeys really do go ape-shit over bananas, swiping them from your hostel room, unattended hand bags, even directly from your hands if you are not careful, barking their discontent if you do not contribute on demand.

bathing elephant women in market sunset over Hampi

Tonight I must return to the chaos of Bangalore where 40,000,000 manage to live in relative harmony. I yet struggle to comprehend the numbers, my engineering mind racing to visualize the water, sewage, electrical, and phone systems required to support this many humans. I am flying to Chennai again Thursday morning. This weekend or Monday to Delhi. Next Friday or Saturday to Singapore to meet with IBM, Xilinx, and a university animation lab. Wednesday the 23rd to the Philippines to meet with education administrators. The 26th, finally, to Kenya, the same week I was originally to have come home.

By | 2017-04-10T11:17:46+00:00 May 10th, 2008|Out of Asia|0 Comments

In the Land of One Billion

Welcome to the Jungle.
traffic, Varanasi When I called Karthik from Japan three weeks ago, stating I had boarded my plane for Chennai, he said cooly, “Welcome to the jungle.” And a jungle it is.

“Billions” was given a new sense of galactic immensity by Carl Sagan and his counting of the stars when I was a child. Some twenty odd years later I yet have difficulty comprehending one billion (let alone billions), where one hundred twenty million more than this call India home.

My experience of India was unfortunately, primarily limited to airports, taxi cabs, hotels, and a variety of private and government offices in Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, and Delhi. Karthik and I conducted a whirlwind tour of his country, literally flying to two or three cities each week for three weeks. This was ungrounding for us both, but necessary in order to establish the desired new relationships within time and financial budget constraints. I also enjoyed a few days at Hampi and Varanasi, which I will write about in subsequent entries.

veggie stand, Varanasi

While my passenger window view of India did not grant a great depth of experience, I proactively captured moments, freeze-frames in my mind, which when assembled are for me, now, pieces of a larger montage. I found contrast in these sometimes harsh, sometimes confusing, sometimes beautiful images. I will attempt to share them with you here, both in words and photos.

A place of contrast.
Brigade Road, Bangalore Dusty bare feet, brown with beautiful golden anklets that jingle upon each foot fall. Sarees the colors of herbs and spices, fire and water, neon green and earthen brown, both bright and faded blue. Seemingly no two alike.

One of the world’s largest slums juxtaposed to four star hotels and the Mumbai (Bombay) airport on at least two sides, plywood huts pressed against barbed wire fences. As in Kenya, the land which often holds the poorest people is worth the most. It is only a matter of time before it is fully developed, and someone, from a private or government organization will be forced to reconcile with this disparity.

Coca-cola and Sprite, chai and sweet milk, coffee late at night. Pizza Hut, Subway, and MacDonalds. Cows lying in the middle of the street, reprimanded with the sticks of rickshaw drivers to no avail, unconcerned for they know they will not find themselves between those famous sesami seed buns.

fruit stand, Varanasi

Freshly squeezed mango juice, milk, and yogurt. Samosas, breads, and spicy curries. Pastries, ice cream, watermelon juice with mint sold along every street. A vegetarian’s paradise. Bolts of fabulously colored silk and cotton lined the walls and floors of hundreds of stores. A travel agent’s glass office juxtaposed to several trinket shops, a street cart selling face paints, and an auto parts store.

Shop owners unable to talk for the amount of chewing tobacco in their lower lip, teeth stained yellow and red. Shop owners recall your name instantly, waving each time you walk by. Indians playing cowboys in modern day Bollywood westerns. Glamor magazines showcasing the clothing, jewelry, cars, and lifestyles of actors, 1950’s Hollywood but on a much larger, faster scale. But what I really want to know, When will the Indians finally kiss on the big screen?

alley shop, Varanasi

“Where you from?! Hey! Where you from?! You Canada?”
“No, from the U.S. … America.”
“Oh! President Bush?” (smiling)
“No comment.” (smiling in return)
“Obama? Clinton? Which one will you pick?”

Old women sit in front of Nike and Jean brand retail stores, the neon signs and florescent lighting a spotlight on the imbalance of this equation in all cities, but amplified here where begging girls carry toddlers under arm. In alley ways they exchange the child as a shared commodity, counting earnings before moving out again for another round. Children tap on the glass of idle cars, pointing to their mouths and stomachs until the traffic light changes, their fingers sliding off the glass as the car rolls ahead. I stole a glance but could not maintain eye contact. Something snapped inside and I turned away, uncertain why. I have money, but not enough to feed them all. So which one? Or fifty? Or one hundred million? Overwhelmed, I froze, and did nothing.

bathing with cell phone, Hampi

Women in colorful sarees work construction sites, barefoot, alongside filthy men. Giant muscular men with turbines and wicked, curled black mustaches smile with illuminated eyes, bowing slightly as one enters their protected domain, a hotel, bank, or restaurant. Teenagers demonstrate independence in dress, jobs, and style. Men bathe in rivers while talking on their cell phones, an elephant spraying its master near by. And yes, monkeys really do steal bananas, from a rickshaw, your hotel room, even your hand.

Hundreds, sometimes thousands of straight-A students compete for a single position in a university. Climbing to the top requires cutting to the front of the line. Too many people to just be average, if you want more. Too many people to be just another number. An intelligence exodus unfolds when the line is too long, and other countries offer a better life, faster.

beach

Yet this is the birthplace of yoga and so many forms of meditation, massage, and ultimate, sexual bliss. What an incredible, harsh, and beautiful contrast which I will never fully comprehend.

By | 2017-04-10T11:17:46+00:00 April 19th, 2008|Out of Asia|0 Comments

The Subtle Bow

A little less force, a little more grace.
These are a few things I will take with me when this week I leave Japan for India.

1. A reverence for personal space may transcend the use of personal communication technology. It’s really, really nice to not listen to other people’s cell calls on the subway or in restaurants or in any public place. We can learn from this in the States.

2. Pointing with my entire hand (palm facing the person you are assisting) instead of a single index finger feels to me more of an invitation instead of a direction. A little less force, a little more grace.

3. Facing the person to whom I give thanks, even for a second, and making eye contact before turning to walk out the door is a moment of thanks truly given.

4. A subtle bow conveys a sense of sincerity to an introduction, receipt of a gift or service, and departure from a space.

5. When giving or receiving items, for example a business card or change from a transaction, doing so with two hands (when possible) conveys an act of intent. I have caught myself tossing a ballpoint pen across a table or spilling change onto a point of purchase counter and feeling quite barbaric in comparison to the Japanese tradition. The subtle difference between “This is for you,” and “Here, take it.”

And at the same time, I find myself craving physical human contact. It is far too easy to go for days here without ever touching another person. I want to shake hands for extended periods of time as they do in Kenya, to hug hello and hug goodbye, and be the joyous recipient of a full-body bear hug as is often customary among my friends.

By | 2017-04-10T11:17:46+00:00 March 24th, 2008|Out of Asia|2 Comments

Bouldering at Mitake, Japan

mitake, bouldering mitake, bouldering kai mitake, bouldering group mitake, bouldering train

When the limestone calls …
Turqoise blue water and an occasional kayak run past a selection of surprisingly good boulders just an hour and a half by train from Tokyo. Set in in the shadow of Mitake Moutain, known for its cable car, hiking, and ancient (some say 2000 years) places of worship and meditation, one could hardly ask for a better setting so close to the bustling metropolis of Tokyo.

My first effort to find this place was a bit challenging as I started from a hotel in Narita using a combination of 3 blog entries posted by 3 different climbers to guide me. The local subway map stops a good hour and a half before the end of the Ome line and my travel was over three and a half hours one-way. I took good notes and offer this as a more clear guide to Mitake-san, starting at the large Shinjuku station on the West side of Tokyo:

1. Change to Marunouchi Line (red) heading northwest to Ogikubu. This station is just a five minute walk from the B-Pump Climbing Gym. A really good gym with friendly staff and a few really strong climbers. Great attitudes. Fun place. By the way, brushing holds for strangers is a great way to break the ice and make local friends.

2. Change to Chuo Line (light blue with a grey stripe) west to Tachikawa station.

3. Change to Ome Line (orange) west toward Ome City.

4. Get off at Ome Station and switch to another Ome Line train that continues further west toward Oku-tama. There may be trains that do not stop at Ome Station and continue, but this was my experience, both going out and returning.

5. Get off at Mitake Station. This is, I believe, 2 or 3 stops from the end of the Ome line. Do not confuse this with “Mitaka” Station which is also on this line. If you are asking directions, emphasize “mee-TAH-kay” as compared to “mee-TAH-kah”.

6. Walk south out of the station. At the bottom of the first set of stairs, just outside the station is an information booth which was that Sunday operated by a gentleman in his 70s who was very eager to circle on a free map all the boulders (you can imagine my surprise!). Even without his welcomed assistance, you may continue south across the street where you may either do directly down to the river on the north side, and walk east (to your left) and over a foot bridge, or head west and to your right, over the automobile bridge.

Either way, you will see the bouldering and likely boulderers on all sides of you, on both sides of the river. The famous Ninja boulder with a half dozen challenging problems is accessible from the highway on the south side of town and the river. Walk east along the highway, through two brief tunnels, and immediately after the second, look down and to your left and there is a well maintained foot path complete with wooden steps.

Enjoy! –kai

By | 2017-04-10T11:17:46+00:00 March 21st, 2008|Out of Asia|0 Comments

A Return to the Source

My life as a Walkman
As I walked through Akihabara yesterday, I considered how much Japan has influenced the world through the export of automotives, food, folklore and film, personal entertainment, animation, and tele-communications. No modern technology we use is without a Japanese component or foundation. It is incredible to recognize what this island has produced. We are all a product of Japan, in one or more ways. To be here is in some respects a technology mecca, a return to the source of so much of what we take for granted.

I was thinking back to fourth or fifth grade in Columbus, Nebraska. Sony released the first Walkman, a portable music player unlike anything the world had seen. Small, about 4x the total volume of the cassette tape itself, and affordable. At the time, I was using a stand-up, single-speaker cassette player I purchased from the local Coast-to-Coast. It was bomb-proof but required 4 “D” cell batteries to run for a few hours, if I recall correctly.

evolution of tech, LCD glass And over the years, the Walkman evolved into a smaller, more compact, lighter cassette player until it was barely larger than the cassette itself. When DVDs came ’round, we started all over again with seemingly cumbersome portables that skipped tracks when we jogged, evolving into smaller, more reliable devices. Now we have solid-state personal entertainment from a wide variety of OEMs (including Apple who is giving even Sony a serious run for its money).

It is difficult to acquire any personal entertainment or communications product without touching Japan at one level or another. If the company which manufactures the product is not Japanese, it is likely there are Japanese components much as there are components from China, Taiwan, or assembly in Mexico. Half of my brother’s professional video gear is made in Japan. My portable microphone is a Sony and digital recorder Panasonic. My home entertainment system is built around a PS3, Yamaha amplifier, and Toshiba LCD screen. All three of my cars have been Subaru (soo-BAH-roo). Come full-circle to the first Japanese product which I owned, my latest cellphone is a Sony-Ericsson Walkman.

In much the same way that I enjoy driving through the bay area of California, the headquarters of famous dot com companies such as Yahoo! right along side the road, I have enjoyed a similar experience in Tokyo in addition to the more cultural tangibles food, hot springs, a weekend at a traditional ryokan, and bouldering with the local climbers.

Last week I heard a quote, “If you want to look into the future, visit Tokyo.”

By | 2017-04-10T11:17:46+00:00 March 21st, 2008|Critical Thinker, Humans & Technology, Out of Asia|0 Comments

Counting raindrops in Tokyo

akasaka, kiosk akasaka, movie stairs akasaka, night lights akasaka, signs

Of raindrops and subway stops
It has been a most beautiful, cool, rainy day here in Tokyo. I sit now at a small corner desk braced above and to the side of a lime green, half-moon dresser which houses a small fridge and shelves. The wall behind me is glass, top to bottom, left to right, separating the bathroom from the bedroom and my desk. Track lighting overhead, an LCD panel mounted to the wall, and my favorite–two windows that open fully in order that I may invite the rain to occasionally land on my keyboard. A perfect use of a small space. Both compact and comfortable.

In my home-away-from-home hotel room, I look across to an apartment complex where a man in his 70s uses the black iron fence on the fourth floor landing to assist with his morning stretches, a woman of similar age waters her plants, and an old temple retains the only grass for as far as my eyes can see, its closest perimeter a grave yard with polished granite tombstones.

Tokyo is a surprisingly quiet mega-tropolis. Few horns. No yelling. Not a lot of traffic noise for public transit is far, far more common than driving a personal car. Just a low level hum and tonight, the cool rain captures the remnant pollution of the day, each drop a transport from sky to ground. The air is crisp, my windows open, the heavy comforter inviting me to bed once I complete my work for Terra Soft. But the work is never complete and I will likely push into the early AM to be online realtime with my staff in Colorado, California, and Canada.

Of pastries and people
I stood in the Shinagawa station, leaning against the glass store-front of a French bakery (where I purchased yet another bag of wonderful breads and pastries; an interesting, unexpected complement to the incredible Japanese cuisine) and watched the nearly unified mass of people in motion. It was surreal. I have never in my life seen that many people move through a space that quickly without incident. I had to remind myself this was not a video game nor scene from the Matrix where men in black suits replicated. I attempted to apply a story to each one, their parents, education, jobs, their own children. So many humans on this planet. Each has a unique story, yet the vast majority go untold.

tokyo, train

They come in waves which swell and retreat, from shoulder to shoulder to just enough negative space to navigate if you hurry and do not falter. Sometimes I stop in the middle of the crowd and look up at a sign, down at my subway map, and again at the sign, the tell-tail behavior of a tourist, I know. Yet I am impressed by how I am seldom bumped, the people of this place experts at moving through life without need for substantial personal space.

I stood at the top of the stairs to the JR line and could not fathom entering the mass for fear of falling and being trampled. I waited and watched, as one would wait for a break in a storm before dashing across the school yard to the bus stop. Even when I did brave the passage, the density on the train was such that it was impossible to fall for one was held upright against the mass of black suit coats, black pants, and black shoes while someone, somewhere at the other end of the car, received the immense pressure of acceleration working on these otherwise immobile bodies.

hot springs, egret hot springs, chain hot springs, hot buns mitake, river mitake, bouldering

Of visas and vistas
I have truly enjoyed my time here, breaking down my childhood stereotypes built upon too many late nights watching Godzilla, Inframan, and b martial arts flicks. Perhaps in the work of Akira Kirosawa’s “Dreams” I find the most relevance. Even this second time, Tokyo astounds me in so many ways, like no other city I have experienced. I both cherish its nearly sterile cleanliness and organization, and yet at the same time long for the chaos of the streets of Nairobi or the raw, overpowering unfamiliarity of Bangkok.

I was to have flown to India a few days ago, but for lack of visa am now awaiting a phone call from the embassy. I will soon experience something altogether different as my employee Karthik and I race through nearly three dozen meetings in just three weeks in four of India’s largest cities.

Last week I enjoyed a day at the hot springs with a co-worker from Japan and Sunday bouldering on the limestone which lines the river off the Ome line Mitake station. I have arranged for more business meetings, and attended the ballet in the new TBS/Sacas arts and entertainment complex. Tomorrow I will visit the B-Pump rock gym for the second time. This weekend, if I have not yet received a call from the Indian embassy, I will return to Mount Mitake for hiking, climbing, and walking by the turquoise blue river whose relentless carving of the limestone gives locals opportunity to boat, fish, and enjoy something other than concrete beneath their feet.

By | 2017-04-10T11:17:46+00:00 March 19th, 2008|Out of Asia|1 Comment