Monday, December 27, 2010

Scattered thoughts/11

Photo "Thinking?" by galo/* (CC)
- Being content with one's common life is still better than putting up with it.

- When you are in an alien place you shouldn't turn yourself into a problem: you never know how people could decide to solve you.

- Sometimes it feels like you're left with the fishbone of your heart.

- You are in Asia, sitting at some restaurant, looking at the local customers who are interacting with the waiter: there's something elusive, a cultural nuance, a linguistic detail, a custom difference. You think about it and all of a sudden you realize what it is: since you can remember you have always asked for your food, you've never really ordered it.

- I've often been saved by my ability to fill voids with enthusiasm.

You can find more thoughts here.

P.S. This year I haven't published any Christmas post. Last year though, I've written three on the topic. You can read them here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Paradigmatic chameleons

I still remember, how could I forget, those new graduates who used to write to the companies exactly what the managers were expecting to read, with their perfect resumes, their career paths drawn with great attention to detail, based on forecasts of a future that has never come true. And their great deal of information on the job market, which they almost seem to be able to manipulate. They used to praise the coming of the new economy before large parts of its body became gangrenous and finally turned into premature fossils, to lecture us on safe and profitable investments before the hail of the stock market crises, to declare the dominance of finance over industry, work, service, innovative ideas before the tricks and the rottenness of that world emerged like excrements from the bottom of the sea.
And they used to climb - they probably still do it - organigramme walls, planting their feet on rungs of human ladders, insisting on calling them "resources" when "means" would have been more appropriate, swimming like sharks that devour smaller fish in the executive private aquariums of predators much bigger and ferocious than themselves.
Nowadays they often languish on careers that are static, stagnant, stale, sta-various-other-things, floundering in the corporate mire that little by little has swallowed their souls. They pretend they have never failed, avoiding any reference to the past and wrapping the present with an enthusiasm which by now is nothing more than a trash sack. Their empty words meant for effect can't amaze us any longer and they only end up proclaiming the calcification of their approach, while our smile - mute and deafening - simply declare our unwillingness to humiliate them, certainly not fear, reverence or lack of courage. 
Years back our letters have often been ignored, thrown away or shredded. We didn't even understand their false advices, confused by our innocence and dazzled by their technical nonsense. We fell back on jobs that we might not have liked, but one way or another one has to go on living. 
Our lack of preparation and planning has made us vulnerable to the calamities of precariousness, but little by little we have adapted to the new conditions, we've learned, gained experience, we've grown up. A new species was born out of this process. In a world that devours today what only yesterday looked like science fiction - swallowing, gushing out, ruminating, digesting and expelling new horizons at a dizzy pace - we have managed to make some room for ourselves: the paradigmatic chameleons. 
We could become extinct before we even find our space in the market biosphere. But that's not sure, not yet at least. Unlike them we still have some cards to play, and you can count on that: we will play them, some of us will do.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Relaxation - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Beer on a table at Jalan Alor
The plastic stool is small and hard, the table is tilted and shaking, walking vendors are hassling the clients with wooden baskets, laser pens and paper tissues. The street is rather dirty and messy and at any time you can expect a rat to come out of a hole in the curb, bound for a bone that lays not far from your shoe. 
Still I sit down: at once newtons of tension start to pour out of some point located deep in the center of my body, emerging to the surface, running along the skin of my limbs, the line of my spine, until they reach the plastic of chair and table, descend towards the asphalt and disappear into the city sewers. Some toxic matter sublimes from my head too, as if I'd just been walking under the tropical rain and once I'd reached a shelter thin pillars of vapor were slowly lifting from my scalp. 
Suddenly I'm relaxed, I can feel it especially in my back, that thanks me by way of a gentle tickle. And I didn't even know that I wasn't. 
It's not only for the variety of the food or the cheap beer, it's also to watch this reaction of my body that i come to this restaurant in Jalan Alor so often.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Only in South East Asia - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Photo by Mugley (CC)
I'm walking along Jalan Alor, a semi-pedestrian street lined up with traditional restaurants. I look at the signs on my left, then my attention gets caught by a girl with a menu approaching me from my right when my foot slips on something: the object is slimy underneath and soft on top. It felt like walking on a rug that was resting on some engine oil. I take a quick glance at the ground. There only seems to be a spot of a slightly darker shade of gray than the one of the asphalt. I stoop and take a better look at it: it looks like some animal's fur. Then I notice two little star-shaped things, a long and thin protuberance, some chiaroscuro effects here and there...every doubt is dispelled by now: the thing I stepped on is the mashed body of a rat, disgusting.
The idea of walking into the house with the contaminated sole is upsetting me. A few meters ahead I come across a puddle, it's stagnant water from a recent storm: it's dirty, alright, but for a rat it might well be a posh Jacuzzi tub. I place my foot into it, I shake it a little and then I move on.
Some drops are falling from a balcony onto the sidewalk, forming a tiny stream between the slabs of cement: I don't know exactly what the nature and the source of the liquid are but I still use it to give the filthy rubber a second rinse. Then chance hands me the weapon for a coup de grâce. A restaurant has just been closed and the waiters are throwing buckets of soapy water on their section of the sidewalk. My trainer passes through the suds like a vehicle at the car wash.
With the tropical heat the synthetic material has dried up before I enter my building. 
South East Asia is dirty, no one can deny that, but in what other place the same elements of its untidiness also provide what you need to clean up?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Homage to the pedestrian/2: the mutation - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Photo by Steve Webel (CC)
"Green light, let's go!" We used to say it when we had just got our driving licences and our underage brothers were in the car with us. In Kuala Lumpur, on the other hand, if you are dressing the part of a pedestrian you'll need to say that sentence at any age. Actually the slower your reflexes become the more you'll have to anticipate the traffic conditions. 
I'm waiting for the green light before I can cross Jalan Sultan Ismail Road, a wide city artery cutting the business district into halves. Here it is, with long strides I try to kick away a bad premonition. The green man has been blinking since it showed up and it really seems that there is no time to waste. As soon as I get past the center line curb what I was fearing actually happens: we get a red light. I reckon that it is one of the tricks of those cunning city officials, who want us to clear the junction as quickly as possible. I am still confident that they'll leave us a sufficiently long interval to reach safety before they release the vehicles that are screeching by the stop line. Hell no, they give them a green light! I'm forced to complete the crossing with three mighty chamois-like jumps. 
How did they calculate the timing? Did they hire Carl Lewis as a test-consultant?
Maybe they count on the fact that people will stop at the curb, making use of two green light turns to complete the crossing. But behind all this there might also be a sordid conspiracy with a ghastly ultimate aim: the total extermination of the pedestrians, a cumbersome and annoying species, not strictly necessary anyway. They lure the biggest possible number of specimens into a trap settled right in the middle of the road, like the one that I just fell into, just to release their motorized beasts, thirsty for pedestrian blood after having been forced for long seconds into a cage made of white lines that was nailing them down to the junction.
But they didn't take into account the interposition of Mr. Charles Darwin, outstanding man of science as well as friend of every pedestrian. Natural selection will turn us into sturdy groups of two-footed gazelles paradoxically crossbred with a slightly washed-out breed of cheetahs. Under the new guise we shall survive and proliferate: through leaps, rushes and crossed lanes the fight will continue for long.
Dear exterminators, you won't make it: the genocide you're dreaming of is not around the corner yet!

You can read part one here

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The missing bowl - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

"[...]The three bowls represent Malaysia's multiracial culture living harmoniously in unity. Ascending to signify the growing aspirations of the people. Serenely the water converges from all directions, an endless source of blessing and prosperity[...]"
It's written near a sculptural fountain installed at the entrance of the Pavilion, a luxurious, modern shopping mall right in the center of Kuala Lumpur business and tourist district.
I guess that the three bowls represent those Malaysians whose forefathers came from the Indonesian archipelago, Eastern China and Southern India. How funny, they seem to have forgot to add at least another bowl: the one for the ethnic group that was already here before the pioneers of the other three arrived. The Orang Asli, the real Bumiputra, the sons of the land. 
The name will probably remind some of you of the famous apes that live in the jungles of Borneo and Sumatra: the Orang Utan. Well, the majority of the Orang Asli also live in the jungle or in rural areas and, come to think about it, considering that the poverty rate among them is 76%, the omission of their bowl is quite appropriate, if that sculpture is meant to represent those races  that share the political and economic power of the country, who live in the cities, patronize shopping malls like the Pavilion and for whom the water of the fountain is an endless source of blessing and prosperity.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Random thoughts/10

A gondola in Venice, by Fabio
- Pride is a problem, not a virtue: one needs to solve it, not boast about it.

- If one goes to Venice and only notices the odor of the stagnant water he doesn't have to worry about his sense of smell: it's working fine! He might need to see an eye specialist though.

- In order to gauge a person's stinginess level the rate of loyalty to consumerism is not a good indicator, the income/expenses ratio is much better. Between one who earns 100 and spends 100, and another one who earns 1000 and spends 200, who is the stingier?

- Some handphones and laptops are great electronic devices. As conversation topics, though, they are quite dull. Using them is much better than spending time talking about them.

- Single=solitary=alone=sad...this sequence of equations is largely overrated. If one wants to know what real sadness is, he just needs to look carefully at some couples' lives.

For more thoughts click here