Showing posts with label Lifestyles/changes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lifestyles/changes. Show all posts

January 6, 2015

Egyptians: The good the Bad and the Ugly

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I remember while researching for my trip to Egypt, I found a lot of articles about the menace of the touts and the middlemen. One blogger wrote that she was on the verge of tears, sitting in front of the Pyramids, when salesmen of all kinds surrounded her and would not let her spend one minute in peace.
Now, I always wanted to go to Egypt but the thought that my dream trip to the Pyramids could be spoiled like that was a major concern. I didn’t care about the political situations or the travel warnings, touts were my main concern. And I would be lying if I said that I dealt with them well, even after extensive research.
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On my second day, I visited the Pyramids and I knew exactly why the blogger wrote what she wrote. Even though I am super afraid of heights, I decided to ride a camel, because I wanted my visit to be like a dream sequence. Endless desert, hot sun, me on a camel, and the Pyramids.
Man, did I get hustled that day. Starting from my taxi driver, to the camel owner, to the little kid who accompanied me to the Pyramids. They all kicked my ass… big time.
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The first few days in Cairo were tough. I would go out every day, with high spirits to explore and then come back in the afternoon, feeling defeated. It seemed every time I talked to someone, I would somehow end up in a Perfume or Papyrus shop, saying “La, Shukran” repeatedly.
Of course, I would feel bad about rejecting them altogether, and give them false hope about buying something from them later on.
“I really have to go my hotel right now. I’ll come back in the evening. I promise.”
“My friend is waiting for me at the bus station. I’ll come back in an hour.”
Next time I went out, I would try to avoid all those areas, but after a few days, I had Omar waiting for me at the market, Mohammad waiting at a shop across the street, and Ahmed at a travel desk two blocks away.
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Not just the touts. The people, especially the younger ones, bugged me a lot too.  They drove rashly and obnoxiously. They spoke loudly and ran around idiotically for absolutely no reason.
And one of them rammed his elbow in my ribs at an ice cream parlour!
(He didn’t do it on purpose, of course. The shop was crowded and he really wanted an ice cream. I remember getting out of the shop, telling myself “No ice cream is worth this pain.”)
Also, the price discrimination bothered me a lot. It seemed every time a foreigner tried to buy something, bottle of water, bag of chips or whatever, he would be charged twice the actual price. And I hated that!
(I am okay with being charged less… But being charged more is like someone questioning my manhood!)
And don’t even get me started on the Egyptian driving. Till now, I thought the traffic of Hanoi was crazy. But, that was before I visited Cairo. People of both these cities drive fast and adherence to rules seem… optional.
The only difference between these two cities is that in Hanoi they never get into an accident. They somehow seem to dodge each other quite efficiently.
In Cairo however, I have seen five accidents. Two big ones. In one, a car rolled over, right in the middle of a busy road. In the other, two bikers bumped into each other, lost control and painted the road blood red.
I have lost count of the number of times, a vehicle would whoosh past me in full speed, missing me by a millimetre.
And while I am cribbing about stuff, let me get this out of my system. Why do they smoke so much? Or why can’t they serve beer in a coffee shop? It would have been so much easier.
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I remember one afternoon, I came back to my hotel room, sad and frustrated, and decided to watch one of my favourite movies (on my laptop) to lift up my spirits.
There was this scene where Leonardo meets Jennifer Connelly in a bar. He says: “T.I.A., right M’Ed?” to the bartender.
“What’s T.I.A.?” Connelly asks in her sexy voice.
Of course! There was my answer, right there. I was being an Asian in Africa. This was no Thailand! I had to toughen up….
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From that point on, the trip just switched onto the “Awesome” mode. Every time someone tried to sell me something that I didn’t want, I said a strong “No!”, moved on and ignored him completely. Every time someone spoke loudly, I replied back, louder. Someone pushed me, I returned favour.
Of course, the more days I spent in Egypt, the more I understood that like in any other city, there were good people and there were bad people. Not all salesmen were dishonest. Not all drivers drove rashly. Not all youngsters were jerks.
Also, just because someone is trying to sell you something at a steep price, doesn’t make him dishonest. Everyone is out to make a buck. The trick is to know what you want, and more importantly, know what you don’t want, and learning to say “No!”
(And if you want to buy something, bargain… shamelessly!)
I have had some wonderful experiences with the locals over the last few weeks. I remember the day in the small town of Abu Talat, when I was treated like royalty (Or a circus clown? Can’t really tell!) and showered with kindness. I remember the nice camel owner, Ramadan who browsed through my Egypt guidebook and asked me so many questions. And his camel, Abu, was awesome too.
There was Eslam, a shop owner at Khan El Khalili market who insisted on having a cup of tea with me, with no ulterior motive, and posed for a picture. Adil, my driver in Alexandria did not want to take any money for the taxi ride because he liked Indians.
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In fact, they all seemed to like Indians. Every time you tell the Egyptians that you were from India, one of three things would happen.
  1. They would say a high pitched “Namaste!”
  2. Shout out “Amitabh Bachchan!”
  3. Do a little Bollywood dance.
Egyptians are really helpful, friendly people and would go out of their way to help you out. And they love to talk… You just have to sit with them at a coffee shop, with time in your hands.
People who complain about Egypt have either not spent enough time in the country or not made efforts to meet the locals.
To really understand Egypt and its people, you have to look beyond the dishonest tour agents, salesmen and middlemen, and once you crack that hard shell and get to the inner fold, you would find this beautiful country full of history, mystery and warm, kind, God fearing people.
Shukran, Egypt! It was fun..
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If you liked this post, you can check out my blog, Good Old Boots, where I share more such stories and experiences from my travels. Check it out here: 
I am a backpacker, travelling on and off for the last four years. I love beer, sunsets, food and everything pretty. My zodiac sign is Libra and my favourite colour is Blue. Having travelled to most of South, East and South East Asia, I finally ventured out to the Middle East, to a country that was always on my wishlist. Egypt. If you liked this post, you can check out my blog, Good Old Boots, where I share more such stories and experiences from my travels. Check it out here:

July 1, 2014

Michael C.Hall and 6 other Stars that Hit Bottom Before they Turn

  Charlize Theron
Black Cloud: It was a succession of beyond-bad-luck stories for the stunning young South African. When Charlize was a 15-year-old farm girl, she watched her mother kill her abusive dad in self-defense. She moved to Manhattan to pursue a career in dance, but her knees blew out, pronto—and with them, her future as a ballerina. At 19, the neophyte actress was living in an L.A. dive, subsisting on stale rolls ripped off from restaurants. Final indignity: after begging mom for cash to stave off starvation, a Hollywood bank refused to cash her way-out-of-town $500 check. “You don’t understand—please,” she unsuccessfully begged the teller. So she freaked—a screaming, flailing temper tantrum in front of the lunchtime crowd. It was her biggest and most rapt audience to date.
Silver Lining: Little did she know, it was also her first successful audition. Talent manager John Crosby, waiting to use an ATM, was captivated by the gorgeous, if high-strung, young woman. “If you’re interested, I’ll represent you,” he told her. As Theron later explained to Oprah, “If I hadn't been in the bank that day, I honestly don't think I'd be here right now.” A few months of acting classes later, she landed her first screen role. Ok, it was in Children of the Corn III, but still.  
Liam Neeson returns to his West Side home after his wife Natasha Richardson was pronounced dead at Lenox Hill Hospital.

Liam Neeson 
Black Cloud: At an age when most lead actors are edging into supporting gigs, the Irish thesp seemed to be pulling off something truly unique in 2009: a late-career transformation into an action star. His down-and-dirty revenge flick Taken shocked pundits by earning a quarter of a billion dollars; Neeson was finally muscling onto the box office A-list. Then, tragedy: his wife Natasha Richardson died of a freak head injury skiing the beginner’s slope at a Canadian resort.   Paparazzi photos from the time show the face of a broken man.
Silver Lining: “Her death was never real [to me]. It still kind of isn't," Neeson told 60 Minutes earlier this year. But he survived—and thrived—by throwing his full energies into his career and raising his two young sons. Now Neeson is at the peak of his bankability. “I’m 61 years of age, man,” he says. “Going around fighting all these guys...I feel a bit embarrassed.” Taken 2, Unknownand Non-stop were worldwide hits, earning Neeson a $20 million payday forTaken 3. And many believe the kick-ass authority he brings to roles displays more than just the gifts of a skilled actor—it’s the work of a man who has known devastating sorrow and channeled it into performances of ferocity and passion.

Michael C. Hall 
Black Cloud: It was a turn of events as disturbing as Dexter itself. In 2010, while Michael C. Hall, lovable serial-killer lead of Showtime’s pitch-black hit, was in the midst of filming season four, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The news had an eerie resonance for the actor, then 38: his own father had died of prostate cancer at age 39.  
 Silver Lining: Hall kept his diagnosis a secret from his coworkers, and started an aggressive months-long regimen of radiation and chemotherapy the day after shooting wrapped. The treatment sent his cancer into full remission, and he not only was able to start season 5 of Dexter on schedule—and keep the large cast and crew gainfully employedHall says he“probably would have kept it quiet had the awards shows not come up, and I felt obliged to explain my lack of eyebrows.”What’s next for the guy whose two big-time roles—a good-hearted killing machine and repressed mortician (on Six Feet Under)—were all about corpses? “I can’t seem to get away from dead bodies,” Hall admitted recently. “Even if it’s my own.”    
Giuseppe Verdi conducting the Opera of Paris orchestra, at the first representation of Aida, in Paris in 1880.

Giuseppe Verdi  
Black Cloud: The great Italian composer fell into an abyss in 1840, at 27. His second opera had been a resounding flop, closing on opening night. Far worse: over the past two years, his beloved wife and both infant children had died, victims of cholera. Despondent, Verdi because a recluse, reading trashy Victorian novels and writing not a note. He planned to give up composing altogether. When a producer sent him the text for a proposed new Biblical opera, Nabucco, he threw it on the table in disgust.
Silver Lining: Call it divine inspiration or good fortune. But as the composer later recalled, “The roll of paper opened out; and without knowing quite how, I found myself staring at the page in front of me and my eyes fell on this line: ‘Va pensiero sull’ali dorati.’” (Translated: “Fly, thought, on the golden wings.”) The words—the opening of a chorus of exiled Hebrew slaves—gave Verdi a jolt: he saw the number as a metaphor for his nation’s patriots, struggling to free themselves from Austrian rule. He started writing obsessively. Nabuccoproved to be a smash, and Verdi went on to become Italy’s most celebrated composer, writing works like Aida and Rigoletto. “Va, pensiero,” meanwhile, is a melody everybody in Italy knows by heart; in 2008, an Italian senator proposed making it the national anthem.
Walt Disney Working in his Studio February 21, 1933.

Walt Disney  
Black Cloud: Early on in his career, Disney proved to be a sputtering, crashing business dud. In 1923, at age 20, Disney started the Laugh-o-Grams company—an animation studio supplying shorts to Kansas City movie theaters. Always the visionary, he embarked on groundbreaking and vastly expensive projects like a combo live action and cartoon flick called Alice’s Wonderland. (Spoiler: It was no wonderland.) Big Walt lacked the financial acumen to back up his high-octane creativity.  He soon found himself virtually homeless, sleeping in his office (where he befriended a tame mouse) and taking showers at the train station. Just a year after opening his doors, he was forced to declare bankruptcy.
Silver Lining: Obviously, Disney didn’t let the setback knock him down. He spent his last dollars on a bus ticket, headed out to Hollywood and started the company that bears his name. Oh, and he created a slightly obnoxious little cartoon character named Mickey, based on that office mouse. He always claimed that his Laugh-o-Grams experience, painful as it was, laid the groundwork for his later success, and helped him avoid catastrophic mistakes. We’re still not sure who to blame for Epcot Center.
Tim Allen  
Black Cloud: “Bottom” doesn’t get much lower than a cell in a state penitentiary. But that’s where Tim Allen found himself in the early ‘90s when, after a hard-partying youth, he was arrested at the Kalamazoo airport with over 650 grams of cocaine. Allen later admitted he had all the makings of a “really good” drug dealer. But clearly it was time to find a new profession.
Silver Lining: Trying to survive his stint in the big house better then most of the cast members of Oz (binge watch it on Netflix!), Allen played to his strengths. When approached for “dates” he’d make the local neo-Nazis laugh. He put on comedy shows for other inmates, and even made the orneriest prison guards chuckle by using a picture of Nixon as a target in his cell toilet. Observing his fellow prisoners, he developed his signature “tool guy” persona. After he emerged from his 28-month term, a friend dared him to stand up on an open mic night at a Detroit-area comedy club. Allen was an instant hit, and went on to star in the hit Home Improvement, and beguile kiddies as the voice of Buzz Lightyear. “Sometimes you have to hit bottom,” Allen later told a reporter, “to know where to go.”

Jon Hamm 
Black Cloud: True, getting shot down on a TV dating show isn’t a tragedy to match illness, death or prison time. But for a young waiter/actor hoping to strut his leading-man stuff, it hurt. Hamm was in his mid-twenties in 1995 when he was a contestant on The Big Date, a c-level Love Connection rip-off. With his floppy hair and surfer dude clothes, the future Mad Men star he didn’t impress bachelorette Mary, despite promising “fabulous food, a little fabulous conversation, ending with a fabulous foot massage for an evening of total fabulosity." Instead she picked Mark, a creepy self-proclaimed “stunt man” who promised he would “take her home later and show her my flexibility.”
 Silver Lining: After watching the show with clenched teeth, Hamm cut his hair, got a nice suit and some attitude and eventually became the People“Sexiest Man Alive” (circa 2008) we know and love today. When Mary found out who she burned years later, she told reporters “I don’t really know who he is and have never seen the show. I have found love since and I wouldn’t trade him for a thousand Jon Hamms.” 

Photo Credits:
Charlize Theron: Dave Hogan/Getty Images
Liam Neeson: Ken Murray/NY Daily News Archive Via Getty
Michael C. Hall: Vince Bucci/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty
Giuseppe Verdi: Universal Images Group/Getty
Walt Disney: Bettmann/Corbis
Jon Hamm: Courtesy ABC News/Lighthearted Entertainment
Tim Allen: Sherrif’s Department, Kalamazoo MI

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