From Madras to Manila

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Best Blog in Asia?

Guys, our little effort has been included in a list of 'Best Blogs in Asia'.

Sandi and I, in all honesty and from a purely objective view based on an Excel-based analysis of thousands of similar blogs, think it is the best. But then our almost saintly levels of modesty dictate that this supposition be put to the test.

Do visit this page to register your vote. In the interests of objectivity, do read some of the other blogs comparing quality of content, style and other factors with our blog. Then - this is the crucial step - remember to select 10 from the ratings drop down on our page before you submit.

In case you'd like to rate the other blogs, do ensure you candidly evaluate its merits before selecting any number less than or equal to 1.

Thanks for your support. Come back soon!

Hong Kong

I think I'm in love. I just returned from a trip to Hong Kong and the city has quite captivated me - it just seems so alive!

Landing in HK

The first surprise is the landing, where you descend almost to the water and start reaching for your life-jacket before you realise you're making for a thin strip of land between several hills. Heart-stopping, but lovely!

What is more heart-stopping, and quite the opposite of lovely, is the cab fare from the airport - 400 dollars (Rs 2400, PHP 2900) to get to Wan Chai, and that's not even the maximum by far!

In the City

People are bustling all around you on the street, under you (on the MRT) and even above you (on the elevated walkways). One can actually hope from building to building on these walkways, Not touching ground level even once! Glass-and-steel skyscrapers - my favourite is the exquisite IFC building - stand tall and sleek in the daylight against a (dwindling) carpet of greenery, forming a very appropriate backdrop for this city-state that has been declared the world's 'freest economy' several years in succession. The entire spectacle seems to radiate power and the 'New Economy'.

The spectacle, however, is slightly marred by the clunky red cabs that prowl the city's streets. Guess what? These are the same as those plying in Manila - The Toyota Crown. Hats off to the genius sales manager who managed to get thousands of these anachronistic marvels on to the streets of practically every emerging economy around Japan! And, since it's Hong Kong, you pay at least five times the price of Manila cabs for the same pleasure (or lack thereof).

Remember to carry lots of post-its with the names clearly written in English and, if possible, in Chinese as well because there is no way in which the cab driver will understand you or you him. You might as well be speaking Hindi and he Cantonese because the English sure ain't helpin'! And anyway none of us can ever pronounce the street names correctly.

Best take the MRT - cheaper and less talking!

[An interesting tidbit - Hong Kong features several names familiar to us. Do Connaught Place and Peddar Road ring a bell? I'm sure they do!]

For lunch we went to a Pizza and Pasta place that, surprise, surprise, does not have pizza! But the waitress has such a quaintly charming way of going to speak with the chef and returning to say "Sorry, no pizza. What can I do?" in a mixture of complete bewilderment and confusion that you quietly order the pasta. Until you go back the next day and the same thing happens, and you discover on careful questioning that they never serve pizza for lunch, a secret of such momentous significance that they elect to keep from the waitresses. Interesting!

[Probably the most expensive golf carts in the world are in Hong Kong, in Discovery bay. Apparently vehicles are not allowed there and the only mode of transport is golf carts, which have been limited to 500 in number, thereby taking the demand-supply situation to such a ridiculous level that each cart could go for as much as HKD 700,000, or the price of 2 Mercedes-Benzs]

After Dark

After dark the city transforms itself from chic sophistication to a completely wild and happening nightlife. The buildings themselves seem to shed their daytime suits (dark and pin-striped in this ultra-formal city) and go from stolid respectability to wild and carefree riotousness with a spectacular, coordinated pyrotechnic show after dark that is apparently in the Guiness Book for being the largest permanent sound and light show in the world. I had the luxury of viewing this panoramic spectacle from an excellent viewpoint on the water courtesy Discovery channel because my very drunk friends neglected to point it out to me while I was there!

And let us not forget Lan Kwai Fong, the heart of nightlife in the city, with it's gently sloping streets, innumerable bars playing great music and own web page. Under the pretext of having 'a couple of beers' a friend managed to pump eight pegs or so of alcohol into me at no less than four bars. It might have been more but I wasn't thinking too clearly after a couple of hours. I distinctly remomber having a beer and a Margarita at the first place, another Margarita at some place that only serves Margaritas (!), an excellent almond liquor shot at a third place and almost puking at a fourth place that had awesome retro music and a B-52 that makes you want to drink more, which we gladly did. Strangely, the bartenders and waitresses seemed to know my friend really well in each of these places. Dude, what have you been up to?

I also vaguely remember insisting that an American chap sitting next to me come to Chennai and visit us 'as soon as possible'. Hope he didn't take it to heart as we're not likely to be in Chennai for the next few years.

Oh well, at least he's visiting India. That's the main thing.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Conquest of Taal - The Promised Pics

Alas, I'm ashiamed of myself but journalistic conscience forces me to state, for the record, that I misled you in my previous post. The dimple mentioned there was just that - a dimple. The volcano is alongside and we were just beginning to climb it when I took this picture.
The view is simply heavenly at the top. The lake is lovely, with little wisps of steam visible here and there if you look really closely while you are there.

[If you can see the wisps in this photograph, it's time to replace your glasses.]


Another breath-taking look at the lake from a slightly different vantage point. You'd think the other mountain is the volcano, wouldn't you? Trust the volcano to be the one least likely to be the real cheez.

I believe it is possible to make the trek down to the lake - you can, of course, take a guide *wink* - but we'll save that for another time!













Now here you can actually see the smoke rising from some deep, subterranean layer of really hot rock!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Conquest of the Taal

Because it’s there.


- George Leigh Mallory, in a March 1923 interview with The New York Times, when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. Mallory and his fellow climber, Andrew Irvine, were lost on Everest the following year. His body was found 75 years later, in 1999.

Having surveyed the volcano and gotten a lay of the land over spoonfuls of Halo-Halo and Putabumboong, we spent the past several weeks carefully planning our ascent. The details had to be meticulously ironed out as, due to our shoestring budget and general inability to climb anything higher than a flight of stairs, we could make one, and only one, summit attempt that day.

An analysis of weather patterns and in-depth interviews with successful climbers - plus the insistence of a visiting friend who was leaving for India the following day - led us to choose Sunday, 30th October as the best day for the effort. We anticipated the sun to shine through the first half of the day, making it imperative for us to make it back down before lunch or risk being stranded on the summit when the rain came down, transforming the slopes into a morass of mud that could engulf my new Sprandi sneakers in a matter of minutes.

Planning the Ascent

Getting to the top is optional, but getting down is mandatory


- Ed Viesturs, member of ill-fated 1996 Everest expedition

We were flirting with danger and we knew it. After all, the summit is only the halfway point - we had to make it back down. Our scant resources did not offer us much comfort either. One of our sponsors had backed out at the last minute, electing to fund an India-Pakistan cricket series instead. Under these conditions, it was suicide to even make the attempt.

We had decided to travel light, so Sandi selected a variety of energy-packed foods and drinks (sweet and / or fattening) that would sustain us on the long, hard climb to the top (and for several days afterwards, as the weight on my back would later testify). This, in hindsight, was a costly mistake, as we essentially ended up carrying about half our body weight in cans and bottles, a light little parcel if you are an ant but a dead weight if you are a human being. We would eventually have to jettison much of what we had carried in the car itself, even before we started the arduous climb.

Sandi, as base camp manager, handled the logistics. We were able to hire a car from Avis at a special promotional day rate of 1,700 pesos and borrow a friend’s driver for another 500. Provisions came to about 500 or so. Based on the extensive experience we had of such expeditions in the past, we knew the critical items of equipment were caps, thick socks, comfortable walking shoes and our trusty backpacks. So while I got out my trusty Sprandi sneakers, Sandi rustled up a pair of little red keds that would have made Reese Witherspoon look like the Terminator by contrast. That was mistake number two.

We also did not take cognizance of the weather, which was extremely pleasant and agreeable that morning, an ominous omen on a trip like this and indicating pain and torture every step of the way. But we pushed on, heedless, caught helplessly in ‘summit fever’.

We're Off!

We reached the foothills – or rather the foot lake - of the volcano early in the morning and were immediately faced with our first major challenge. How do we avoid getting conned by the masses of boatmen who were thronging outside our car, outdoing themselves in quoting ridiculous fares – 2000, 3000, 5000… it was like an auction!

And then Sandi, in her first heroic action of the day, cried out, “One thousand”.

[The second was in persisting with the keds]

The boatmen went still. Hushed murmurs went all around, as people whispered to their neighbours, “One thousand, one thousand”.

One thousand. It had never been done before. Was it possible? Could it be…?

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, one man stepped forward, gazing thoughtfully at our little threesome (Sandi, me and our friend), ‘I will do it, ma’am.’ The respect simply shone from his eyes as he ushered us to our boat.

And we were off!

At the Volcano

The little boat sped across the water while we marveled at the large, looming mass of cinders, ash and igneous rock that loomed up in front of us – the Taal volcano. It could have been heavenly, the boat gently swaying, the soft swoosh of the waves as they crested on the sides, the clean, fresh-smelling breeze... Only it wasn’t thanks to the loud, foul-smelling drone of the outboard motor that made conversation impossible until you almost wished the volcano would erupt, if only to wipe out the engine from the face of the earth.

Perhaps 15 minutes later, temporarily deafened, we landed at the base of the volcano and prepared for the climb. We had stashed the heavier tins and bottles back in the car (Base Camp), where other climbers could use them in the future, in case we didn’t return. The remainder we distributed between the three of us.

We decided upon the services of a local sherpa (actually a Filipino, but it sounds so much better that way), who promised to guide us safely through the supposed multitude of false paths and dead ends that had claimed the lives of many, or so he gave us to understand. In return he demanded 500, settling finally for 200.

This, as it turned out, was our third mistake, because he ended up having a leisurely 200-peso stroll up the hillside while we huffed and puffed ourselves silly along the one and only path that you could take up the mountain unless, of course, you are a mountain goat or somewhat addled in the head.

The Ascent

I climbed Everest so that my children wouldn’t have to.

- Jamling Tenzing Norgay, son of Tenzing Norgay

The Taal volcano towers a majestic 1300 feet above sea level, and can take even an experienced walker upwards of forty-five minutes to climb. Its single path is treacherous, leading off into side trails that could make you wander alone and disoriented for as far as ten feet before rejoining the main path. And if that were not enough, you have to make your way through dozens of wild, snorting, foaming horses carrying unimaginably obese American tourists, whose hooves (the horses’, not the tourists’) can set off avalanches of pebbles that really smart when they hit your shin.

And there we were, three misguided climbers, trying to make our way with the best of them!






The ascent may be divided by contour lines into three parts - an initial 100 vertical feet where you stride gaily, laughing and singing old Hindi marching songs (Kadam Kadam Badhaye Ja is a favourite), followed by 1100 feet of agony after your lungs have collapsed under the strain and you’ve discovered that red keds are best left in the nursery. These 1100 feet also feature some uncomfortably hot, steaming rocks along the way.

The final 100 feet is called the Death Zone as a combination of high altitude and torn ligaments leaves you light-headed and unable to think clearly. Decision-making is a strain and all entreaties to get up and cover the final 100 yards are met with blank incomprehension. There is little that your teammates can do but struggle on and leave you or it is likely they will meet the same fate. It is survival of the fittest - a cruel, but well understood code of the mountains.

After the initial 100 feet, we established our first camp (Camp 1) and stopped for a drink of bottled carbon dioxide, though we desperately wished we'd carried bottled oxygen instead.

We made slow, but certain progress, establishing a series of camps along the way until, finally, we reached the Death Zone immediately after Camp 21 (or maybe it was 31), where we began to really feel the effects of about two litres of bottled carbon dioxide sloshing about inside us. It seemed rather insistent on getting out. Perhaps it was the low pressure around.

And it was here we had our first casualty when our friend, who’d so far struggled gamely against the effects of about a decade of sedentary life, collapsed gasping to the ground and said “Leave me. Save yourselves” or something thereabouts.

We vowed not to forget him, a promise we made good on several years later when we reached the top and arranged for the guide to go down and help him up the last 15 feet.

Having overcome the debilitating effects of the Death Zone, we feasted our weary eyes on the delights at the top – a police post, a ramshackle toilet and a coconut seller.

Thankfully, on shuffling a few steps further, we caught sight of the lake nestling in the middle of the volcano and it was all really worth it.

We spent about half an hour on the summit, drinking heartily of some really sweet coconut water, before making a half-hearted attempt at using the loo - none of us got any closer than 5 feet of the stinking mess - and starting on our way down where we relieved ourselves like horses (and a mare) behind various bushes on the way. Now we know why there are so many little paths leading off into nowhere.

We slid the last 500 feet or so before finally arriving miles away from our boat and having to walk half-way across the island before finding it. Sandi's little keds were by now glistening redder than ever and she had to be stuffed into our backpacks for the last few metres.

[I wanted to post some more snaps but am having trouble posting the remaining pictures. I hope I'll be able to include them some time later.]

Now, Bird Flu

Got an advisory on 'Avian Flu' just today.

[Wonder why 'Avian' is being substituted for 'Bird', considering that 'Influenza' is still referred to as 'Flu'!]

In brief:
  • Stay away from live animal markets, poultry farms and "any surfaces that appear to be contaminated by faeces from poultry or other animals". I'd love to be pigeon now - earlier I was merely irritating car owners by crapping all over their Maseratis. Now a single anal projectile can render the car useless!
  • Wash your food thoroughly, especially eggs. Cook it really well

This place is beginning to really frighten me, not least because my lunch spread now reads 'Mad Cow Disease, Avian Flu, Foot-and-Mouth Disease / Tapeworm and icky undersea fauna with a side of rice'.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Taxis!

For those of us not blessed with a car (yet) or a helicopter and lacking the intestinal fortitude to take a jeepney or motorbike, the taxi is the best and most convenient form of transport.

Catching a Cab

Getting a taxi is a three-step process:
  • Step 1: Stand at any convenient corner, sidewalk, divider, bus-stop or even, under extenuating circumstances, in the middle of the road
  • Step 2: Raise your right arm, or if that is occupied with your umbrella, your left, or if that is clutching 15 assorted plastic bags from SM, your leg at a 90 degree angle away from your body and wave your hand (or foot) in a frantic manner as if trying to attract the attention of a bull that’s goring a matador nearby
  • Step 3: Repeat Step 2 for fifteen minutes till fed-up and proceed to walk in a calm and orderly fashion in the direction of your home, stopping at every intersection to repeat Step 2 a few times before carrying on

In the event that you do spot a cab, you can now proceed to test the Uncertainty Principle, which states that the mere action of observation can actually affect a passing cab’s properties according to certain probabilities, as listed below:

  • Cab that appeared empty almost to the point where it runs you over will mysteriously display a passenger lurking in the back seat: 70%
  • Cab driver making his way along a highway leading straight to your front door with no turns along the way will insist that he intends to go the other way: 15%
  • Cab driver making his way on off-peak hours along a deserted boulevard will prove to be clairvoyant and develop the firm belief that there is ‘trapic’ (traffic) and masses and masses of stalled cars just beyond the turn, making it fruitless to even venture in that direction: 10%
  • Cab driver will ask for 200 pesos for a 50-peso distance: 4%
  • The cab will be empty and the cabbie happy to get a paying passenger: 1%

Late in the evening, after the mall crowds have departed, it is even now possible to catch glimpses of lonely, deranged pedestrians clutching parcels and parcels of smelly, rotting groceries, dashing between intersections, fingers twitching helplessly at the ends of stiff-board-like arms, eyes darting this way and that, watching for an empty taxi to materialize out of the darkness…

Inside The Cab

If you are among the blessed few who manage to latch on to a cab, congratulations! Slip inside and take a look around at some of its attractions.

The modern Manila cab is a vehicle that was manufactured by the Toyota Company at around the same time that the Model T was making its debut in the US. Boxy and completely without any charm whatsoever, that these contraptions move at all is a source of unending wonder to me, given that their production lines have probably long been decommissioned, spare parts rusted into fossils and mechanics with any degree of familiarity with its workings having passed away decades back.

Let me first draw your attention to the door handle, which was broken off long ago and is now held together with a strip of packing tape as a kind of memorial to the part that once was. It’s purpose is to keep you from ever exiting the cab, which probably explains why it is so difficult to get an empty one nowadays.

Next we peruse the bucket seat in front. Remember never, ever to sit in it. True to its name, it is the most uncomfortable seat of all time and there is no position that you can assume which will not turn you into Quasimodo in a matter of minutes. And, oh, the seatbelt does not work.

Moving on to the meter, first-timers here will spend the entire duration of the journey trying to find it. It’s a little 3 inch x 1 inch thingy that’s located at the base of the gear shift and visible only in first gear, assuming you're breathing lightly into the driver’s ear at the time. In order to not offend the driver by frequently checking the meter, I've worked out method of lurching forward violently every time the brakes are pressed and quickly checking the fare. This works fine except in situations where a concerned driver asks you to put on the rear seat-belts leaving you with the less effective option of faking a sneeze to get a peek at the meter. The fare starts at 30 pesos and is calibrated to jump by 2.50 every time the driver presses any pedal at all, making a 5-minute stroll into a 150-peso experience.

Last, but not the least by a fair margin, is the fuel indicator, which always points to E, no matter what the distance is. Manila cabbies seem to have a genuine hatred to filling more than 2 litres of fuel into their tanks at a go and I have had at least two edge-of-the-seat experiences where the vehicle seemed to be traveling miles and miles on pure will power, an interesting alternate energy source, though rather unreliable. The only reason we made it both times was that, given the lateness of the hour, my prayers were beating his hands down in intensity and fervor, aided, no doubt, by the number and variety of Gods I could pray to while he had only one, poor soul.

More on Shopping @ Work

This phenomenon has actually appeared as a news item. Read excerpts of the article here.

Shop @ Work

The post on megamall should have made it all pretty clear - the national pastime of all Filipinos is shopping. Ask them their weekend plans, and they will nonchalantly tell you that they have exciting plans. They are going 'malling'.

This is paradise. Gigantic malls everywhere. Shops hawking everything from terrific clothes to shoes to gorgeous pearls...I couldn't have asked for more.

Or Could I?

It gets a bit much, shops, shops and more shops. Unending variety that confuses you, actually leaving you with no choice. Unending masses of people. All looking suspiciously like you do. Which happens, coz no matter what the variety, the human race, especially the female kind, tends to gravitate towards exactly the same kinda clothes and accessories.

After a few initial weekends spent 'malling' and in turn getting mauled, I decided to take it easy. I decided to stop shopping. Amit was ofcourse, disbelieving. But after a few weeks of me not shopping, he was ecstatic.

At least he was happy for a while. Because I soon discovered a really convenient shopping option. Lots of variety, easy payment plans, no crowds at all - a shopping paradise! My office.

Shop @ Work

It all started one day when I noticed my colleagues (mostly women, but is that topic of another blog) crowding into a cabin and there was excited babble that made one naturally gravitate to the place. I found the women swooning over some very nice lingerie...really nice stuff. I found out that the head of unit, a really senior person (the occupant of the cabin) was the one selling. Her family runs this as a business.

Next I noticed all women wearing the same shoes to work - you guessed right, again courtesy an office mate. Then I managed to find someone who made out of the world pasta and sold it at work. I also found the worlds best butter cake & brownies, right at my office.

I was zapped! In India, one is wary of anything even close to furthering the cause of a friend/relative, much less actually selling their stuff in office! But here it is all kosher, happening under the benign eye of senior managers. I spoke to my colleagues - everyone has a 'side' business. The salary they earn - mind you, my company is supposed to pay decent amounts - is simply not enough to keep with expenses of this country. Veggies, utilities, now fuel, everything here is expensive. In fact, the cost of living here seems to be at least 2-3 times that of India with white-collar incomes averaging 20-30% less than what one would earn back home. So most people are forced to add to their income by selling stuff@ work!!!

Maybe its time I started selling Indian accessories & clothes so I can afford the out-of-this-world brownies at work. Partnerships solicited!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Salcedo Village Market

Fairly well-known in Manila, the Salcedo Village market offers weekend shoppers the chance to buy fresh produce at relatively affordable prices. All the stuff here has been organically grown and completely free of chemicals and is bought by strong, athletic-looking people with rosy cheeks that closely resemble the fruits they are buying.

Actually I'm not really sure why the shoppers are so happy because they're basically buying unwashed flora that has been lovingly raised in knee-deep horse dung, resulting in a kilo of fruit yielding only about 900 grams of undigested matter, if you know what I mean.


Be that as it may, the market itself is rather attractive, with a quaint 'village' atmosphere that makes shopping rather pleasant despite the fact that the market opens at an unearthly 7 am on Saturday and closes at noon. Apart from fruits and veggies, one can buy plants and also a great variety of cooked food - pastas, bakes, Filipino delicacies, savouries, you name it! All the aromas mingle together to actually make your tastebuds tingle and it is a very good idea to save breakfast for the market, where you can indulge yourself to your heart's content.

The market has recently extended its timings to 4 pm to cater to the increased demand near Christmas. People actually come all the way from Alabang, which is over an hour's drive away and accessible only via a toll road!

In case you want to take a closer look at the variety of goodies available, take a look at this epic, five-part series (read the entries between Oct 10 and 15th) on the subject!

Commuting - Another Option

Now here's a sight you will almost NEVER see in India - helipads on highrise buildings. I believe all highrises that house or even expect to house Americans are required to have helipads for emergency evacuations.

While that might be an urban legend or simply someone cocking a snook at paranoid Westerners, the fact is that almost all the large office and apartment blocks in Makati have helipads and I've seen at least a couple of choppers landing. Our building has one too, though it might be a while before I start using the services to beat the traffic.

Diwali Came - And Went

Belated kali Puja and Diwali Wishes to you all.

The festival of lights came and went relatively unnoticed here except among the Indian community which had some gatherings that we did not attend. Luckily Monday and Tuesday were holidays due to All Saint's Day and All Souls' Day falling on the same days.

We had a small dinner for a couple of friends who collectively make up 66% of our entire friend circle here (the remaining 33% had chosen Hong Kong over our happening do, for which we will never forgive him). It was also the 'coming out' party for our apartment, which we've kind of beaten into shape through four days of hard work on the living room and 2 minutes spent shutting all the other doors so people wouldn't see the chaos within. It's like the beginning of time in the guest bedroom, circa the day before God decided to create Earth.

We lit a solitary candle as our contribution to Diwali, sang old Hindi songs and feasted on rice, sambar, poriyal and chutney, courtesy Sandi, who spent 3.5 hrs in the kitchen to make it happen.

Emailed Advisories

So much has happened in the past couple of weeks that it's going to take some time to do justice to it all - I had a short sojourn in Singapore, we had a four-day weekend here in which we took time to clean up the house and make a full-day trip to Tagaytay, we've finally visited the famous Salcedo Park Market, Diwali came and went... the list is really long!

And we got a couple of advisories in the space of two days a couple of weeks back:
  1. How to Avoid Carjacking
  2. Urgent Warning on the Bringing Into the US of PIRATED ITEMS (not just DVDs but also bags, cosmetics... the works!)
  3. And an oldie but a goodie - An Earthquake Survival Guide

I don't think I ever expected to receive emailed corporate advisories like these! Contrast them with the typical Indian emailed forward on how to deactivate your cell phone in case it's stolen... doesn't quite seem so critical any more, does it?

How to Avoid Carjacking

The advisory begins with the following information for the benefit of those vistims whose primary concern in the first few seconds after the theft is to find the precise term to describe the event:

Carjacking involves the forcible theft of a vehicle when someone is aboard, usually in transit. This is different from carnapping, wherein the vehicle is taken while it is stationary and there is no one aboard it

Of course, this does leave some legal loopholes.

-------------------

Defence: "So, Mr Victim, you say my client carnapped your BMW"

Victim: "Yes"

Defence: "Where were you on the night of 14th June, between 11 and 11:30 pm when the crime allegedly happened?"

Victim: "In the car, watching helplessly as this gang was preparing to drive away with my car"

Defence (pouncing on the victim): "AHA! You say you were in the car? But, according to the Carjacking Advisory, a carnapping can occur only when no one is aboard. And yet you were in the car. I rest my case, your honour."

(Shocked silence from the victim. Murmurs in court. Flashbulbs go off)

Judge: "Case dismissed"

----------------------

The advisory further goes on to list six car-jacking hotspots, all of which are in and around Quezon City. Yet, presumably to mollify any feelings of hurt that these car-jacking residents of Quezon City might have, the reports warns that "although most incidents have been noted to occur in Quezon City, carjackings can happen anywhere". Sure, we'll keep that in mind - but in the meantime, I know which part of Metro Manila I'm avoiding.

Among the risk mitigation tips are items such as "ensure your vehicle is in good working condition in order to avoid vehicle breakdowns in potentially dangerous situations". Perhaps there is a point in this, but I cannot see it. After all, would a would-be carjacker really want to steal a car that breaks down at the first sign of pressure? And, even assuming stealing beaten up old lemons is a requirement, say as a sort of training programme in Quezon City Carjacking School, what would they do with the one-ton heap of junk? Call a towaway van?

Anyway...

Bringing Pirated Goods into the US

Apparently some Filipino passenger had his fake Louis Vuitton bag confiscated - I'm not even sure whether the poor schnook know it was fake - and had to carry his clothes in a garbage bag! Hope they emptied the bag before giving it to him. Piracy stinks!

Earthquake Survival

This was sent by a concerned friend in India. Thanks - I think.