Saturday, February 28, 2009

Internet Addiction

The world just becomes stranger every day...

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

Even though it was just before Lunar New Year--the most important family holiday on the Chinese calendar--Wang Hongxia was forcing her son out of the house. The 45-year-old accountant had decided to take her 12-year-old from their home in the northwestern city of Xian to a secluded military compound in Beijing, more than 700 miles (1,125 km) away. Like many Chinese parents, Wang felt she had no choice. "Things have absolutely gone out of control," she said, almost in tears. "My son just beat and bit me again this morning after I wouldn't let him touch the computer."

While the guidelines might seem overly broad--by that measure, many researchers or financial analysts who log long hours on the Internet could be considered addicts--that hasn't stopped anxious parents like Wang from dragging their children to Tao's camp, a grim four-story building in Beijing's main military compound. Once checked in, most patients are required to stay for three months, isolated from the outside world, without access to cell phones and, of course, computers. Parents of patients at the Internet-addiction center have to stay for several weeks of treatment too, since, according to Tao, Internet addiction is often a result of "parenting mistakes." 

For most families, paying for this care is a sacrifice. The cost can total nearly $3,000--almost three months' salary for the average Chinese couple.Life in the camp, not surprisingly, is one of strict discipline. Patients get up at 6:30 a.m. and go to bed at 9:30 p.m. Their daily schedule includes military drills, therapy sessions, reading and sports. 

"At first, I felt like I was living in hell," says Yang Xudong, a laconic 22-year-old in his second month of treatment. "But over time, it gets more comfortable and peaceful." Despite the progress he's made, like eating a diet other than the instant noodles he used to live on while playing online games, the Beijing native admits he still gets upset too easily and is "afraid of people"--two signature symptoms of Internet addiction, according to Tao. "I think life in this camp has definitely calmed me down to some degree," says Yang."But I'm far from ready to get out, since I don't know what to do with my life yet."A large number of the center's patients are well educated. Didi, a 20-year-old college sophomore who did not disclose his full name, picked up online gaming after being accepted into the distinguished Tsinghua University. He says he became so obsessed that he skipped all his classes for an entire semester and eventually received academic warnings from the school. As many as 30 students from Tsinghua and Peking University--China's most prestigious schools--have been to the camp, says Tao. "Our kids are all very special and intelligent," he notes. "It's only normal for people to make detours when they're young. Our mission is to help them get back on track before it's too late."On the same afternoon that Wang and her son arrived, an 18-year-old boy was ready to leave after months of strenuous treatment. 

As part of the camp's tradition, he hugged every one of his fellow patients. "It's certainly an emotional moment for the kids," says Tao--one that can even soften the camp's chief disciplinarian. "To me, it's especially rewarding to see them step out of here with all the confidence that they deserve."

Pussy Chronicles

Our cat had kittens! Five in her first litter... =)

Before she became a mummy, Pussycat used to frolic in the garden, bathe in the warm Karachi sunshine and scratch up sofas and cushions around the house. She enjoyed midnights trysts with various tomcats and went hunting outside. Now PussyMom is confined to her boudoir 24/7, only coming out occasionally to eat and stretch. Suddenly, she's all grown-up and likes her privacy. She also wants to be stroked and petted more than ever and her tone has changed from cutesy meowing to a contented purrr...

Ahh... the joys of motherhood

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Stalker- Part One

Feb 2009
"still expecting a reply from you" read the subject line of the email in her hotmail account. She selected the message and clicked "Delete". 
Dec 2004
She was a freshman in college, on her way back to Pakistan for the winter holidays. She took the Dinky from P to P Junction and from there, took NJ Transit to NY Penn Station, lugging two heavy suitcases (over two-thirds of which were packed with gifts for family and friends).

Penn Station was crowded as always; hundreds of people waiting for the numbers on the boards to reflect the arrival or departure of the next train, rushing to catch the next train, grabbing a quick cup of coffee at one of the cafes or simply sheltering from the cold outside, munching on a warm Aunty Anne's pretzel.

Panting and puffing, she arrived at the 8th avenue, A C E junction and, holding on to railing with one hand, managed to hoist herself and her suitcases onto the platform, one at a time. She got in line to buy a metrocard from the vending machine, watching the people ahead of her to see how it was done. It looked pretty straightforward- a simple touch screen with easy-to-follow instructions and sure enough, a couple of minutes later, voila! the metrocard popped out of the slot and she collected it with her Debit card and receipt.

Next, she moved to the turnstile and swiped the card. The screen display read, "Please swipe again". She swiped the card a second time... "Please swipe again". She swiped a third time, and a fourth time, only to see the same message displayed on the screen over and over again. She was getting frantic now, the train was almost there! 

Finally, the guy right behind her in line, ran out of patience and, taking the card from her, swiped the card through the turnstile in one, smooth move. The screen said, "GO" and the slabs parted to let her pass. Mumbling a quick thank you, she pushed and pulled her suitcases through the turnstile and reached the other side just as the train pulled into the station.

On Death

A distant relative passed away today. He was old. People said his time had come and he went peacefully. He is survived by his wife. They didn't have children; only a cat called Bundle who lived to the ripe old age of 16 and passed away a few years ago. 

In our society, we take so much for granted, we complain about family, annoying relatives and people encroaching on our privacy but this support system is our safety net. Usually, when one parent passes away, the surviving spouse goes to live with their son (or some other family member, depending on the situation). But what happens when there are no children? No siblings? No one? 

After the first few days of mourning, everyone goes back to their daily routine and the one left behind is left to pick up the pieces and await his/her own death. Remarriage for widows (beyond a certain age) is usually looked down upon and a single woman living on her own is considered taboo. What to do?


Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentines Day Laddoos

My gora (white) American friend, let's call him Johnny, made laddoos for his Indian girlfriend from scratch! wrapped them in gold foil, decorated them with roses and gave them to her for Valentines' Day! She said they reminded her of her mother and started crying... awww... sniff! 

If you've never made laddoos, let me tell you, it's ain't easy! The mixture has to be just the right consistency so it can be compacted into nice, firm balls and chopping the nuts that go into the mixture takes forever. But it's totally worth the effort =)


Why can't desi guys be that original/creative?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Conversation at Lunch

M, I and MY are 20-something females raised in Muslim families. J is Johnny, the only American and male at the table.

M: "I've found an eligible prince. I'm going to marry him."
I: "Really? Who is he?"
M: "Sheikh Hamdan, the son of Dubai's ruler, he's Muslim, educated, good-looking, rich, and cares about the world... he's perfect!"
I: "I heard he recently got engaged..."
M: face falls, "Really?!" 
I: fake sympathetic smile, "Yes."
MY: "You know you can always be the second wife."
M: "True, but I'd rather be the first of two wives... he'd value me more."
MY: "I don't think so... First wives are like tattered old t-shirts, wouldn't you rather wear something new, fashionable and sexy?"
M: "I prefer being comfortable in my old t-shirts, I can be myself."
J: shakes head "I can't believe you're having this conversation" 

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cameron's Camel Campaign

ABU DHABI Campaigners trying to prevent people from dumping rubbish in the desert say their message – that one in two camels is dying from eating waste – is going largely unheard.

Cameron Oliver, 12, started a campaign to save camels and other animals in the UAE as part of a school project, and has since seen his message go worldwide, appearing on television in Brazil, China, the UK and his native South Africa.

However, he and his family believe the facts are not being driven home hard enough, as there is little emphasis on recycling and many people litter without a second thought.

Dr Ulrich Wernery, the scientific director at the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory (CVRL) in Dubai, where every second camel brought in for necropsy has ingested plastic and dies from related complications, agrees.

"There are 250,000 camels in the UAE and many are regularly ingesting waste,” he saidThe doctor, who first started warning the public that camels and other animals were dying from eating plastic 10 years ago, believes people are continuing to ignore his message and he is so frustrated at the inaction that he has almost given up.

“I watch people everywhere and there has been no change; they still throw rubbish away,” he said.

Cameron, who attends Al Rahah International School in the capital, said he was shocked when he learnt that the dumping of waste was causing animals to die agonising deaths.

As part of a school project, he developed a website – – to stop people from dumping rubbish.

“I can’t believe people are killing these animals,” said Cameron. “The camel is part of the UAE. It is what got people around. But it is not just about the camel. Goats are dying and turtles in the sea.”

His father, Mark Oliver, who works in retail, said: “It is a sensitive issue. People throw rubbish away as if they expect someone to come and pick it up after them. There is a cultural change that needs to happen. If they don’t stop they will kill all the camels.”

Sandra Knuteson, a Sharjah-based scientist, estimates that between 260kg and 840kg of rubbish per square kilometre is left behind at recreation sites, such as wadis in Fujairah and Hatta, each week.

Four-wheel-drive clubs, which regularly head into the desert for clean-up weekends, come back with dozens of bin bags filled with rubbish, which they later burn at landfill sites.

But even when refuse is properly thrown away, it often ends up at dumps and landfill sites that have no barriers to prevent animals from entering them.

Cameron’s Camel Campaign is now looking for corporate sponsorship so they can extend their awareness campaign and also raise money towards biodegradable products.

“It is important to remember that this is not about Cameron,” said his father. “It’s about the camels.”

Abu Dhabi Classics_The Magical Music of Walt Disney

Thursday evening, my roomie S and I went to see "The Magical Music of Walt Disney" (an orchestra show featuring Disney music) at Emirates Palace except we both misread the date on the tickets and showed up a week too late :P

It was pretty funny/tragic... S and I were all dressed up (complete with make-up and heels) and looking forward to an evening of music and relaxation. We got there early and walked around for a bit, admiring the view (Emirates Palace is gorgeous!). At 5:30, I went up to the reception and inquired where the event was being held. The receptionist smiled and asked to see our tickets and then politely informed us that the show had already taken place last week!

Utterly humiliated, yet trying to appear calm and dignified, we went to have coffee and debate our next move (since we'd told the driver to pick us up two hours later) while mourning the loss of 250 AED.

Guess I forgot to say "Inshallah" before making plans... :P

Monday, February 9, 2009

Shopping at the Gold Souk

Shopping for gold can be pretty depressing... because gold is EXPENSIVE! For my mom's birthday, I wanted to get something uniquely Abu Dhabian, so I went to Madinat Zayed Gold Center to have a look around. This place is huge- over a hundred shops selling yellow and white gold, diamonds and other precious/semi-precious stones. One thing that struck me was the lack of security- unlike Pakistan, (where crime is at an all-time high) there were no Kalashnikov-wielding guards at the entrance and the doors stood wide open.

Most of the stores are owned by Arabs, Indians and Pakistanis- the big ones (like Damas) have a representative from each region to communicate with the clientele in their native language. For some reason, everyone thinks I'm Indian- even the Pakistanis :P

Damas discriminates based on your "status". The Les Exclusives Boutiques cater to the ultra-rich (Sheikhs, celebrities, business men types) while the outlet stores and union-coops cater to the middle-class. They should have a franchise for poor students/researchers/fresh graduates like me.

Arab jewelry designs are loud and flashy- usually crafted in 24k (the purest form of gold) or 22k (the almost-pure form). They don't mess with paltry 14k. I found a pendant with a picture of the ruler on it :); truly Emirati patriotism knows no bounds. Imagine wearing a pendant on your wedding with Zardari's face on it... (shiver!)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Abdel Karim

I take the bus to work every morning. It's a rectangular, white dabba (box) with wheels but hey, I'm not complaining! As long as I don't have to drive and it gets me to where I need to be, I'm happy :) The girls have their own bus (no males allowed, except the driver, who for some reason doesn't count). We listen to Radio 1 - the essential guide to surviving the traffic in Dubai and AD. It keeps me in touch with what the rest of the world of the world is listening to (after college, I can't play off other peoples Itunes any more :P). As a result, this has been stuck in my head for the last two days and this.

Our driver Abdel Karim is a 40-something year old man from Kerala, India. Married, with three small children, he's been working in Abu Dhabi since 1986 to support his family back home. He lives alone in a tiny room on Salam Street and only gets to visit home once every 1.5 years! He doesn't get a single day off (no weekend, sick leave, public holidays... nothing!) and hasn't even seen his (now) 5 month-old daughter since she was born...

The concept of workers' rights does not exist in the UAE and since the financial crisis, things have gone from bad to worse. There are laborers who haven't received salaries in over 3 months and their passports have been confiscated so they can't even leave the country.

It reminds me how much I have to be grateful for and to not take things for granted...

Friday, February 6, 2009

Real Life

Poor kid...

Freedom of Anonymity

I love the freedom that comes with anonymity; the freedom of being in a place where I know noone and noone knows me. Today, at the Corniche, I experienced that freedom.

It was practically deserted since it's winter time and a little chilly outside, but I could hear the waves pounding the rocks and the muted sounds of traffic on the road. I walked past the playground... the red swings beckoned invitingly. After a quick, furtive glance to make sure noone was watching, I lowered myself onto the swing, praying the chains wouldn't collapse under my weight... thankfully, nothing happened so I settled in and pushed off.

For twenty minutes, I swung to and fro in blissful solitude, feeling the wind on my face, reliving my childhood. Then, a garbage collector passed by, wheeling the clanking bins and my peace was broken.

Sometimes I really wish I could be seven years old again...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I Miss...

Chocolate Chip Cookies:
I am craving chocolate chip cookies. Soft, gooey ones, like they have in the USA. I went cookie-shopping in AD but it wasn't the same :'( 

The cookies here are crumbly and brittle and the chocolate chips are too sweet. When I dip the cookie into my glass of low-fat milk, it disintegrates and sinks to the bottom. Ana sad jiddan (I am very sad)! 

I've been here almost four months now and only had pizza once! The pizza joints are few and far between- no Papa Johns home delivery... Pizza Hut is too greasy and they reduced the size instead of hiking up the prices so one teensy slice costs around AED 15.

Public Transport:
Other than taxis, public transport still has a long way to go... the buses are overcrowded, stop at arbitrary points and don't service half the places I'd like to visit. Streetcars might be a good idea (like the ones they have in Toronto).  

Online Shopping:
I miss being able to order anything and everything online... Amazon rocks my socks :) 

I really miss the squirrels! Didn't appreciate them enough when I was there... notice its wistful expression... 


The World Future Energy Summit 2009

Abu Dhabi's event of the year.

It kicked off to a great start!

Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed came to inaugurate the event. He's really tall and imposing... but very charismatic. Protocol: when royalty walks in, everyone has to stand and remain standing until they are seated. 

Cool exhibit- the biker powers the headlight (which is also the biker's head :P)

Shell's electric car- it fits one person who weighs less than 50 kg. This little boy was enjoying the attention :)

I met Rajendra Pachauri!

M networked with the PRT people. I like the idea of traveling in podcars... but they only go up to 40 km/hr
PRT (Personal Rapid Transit)- London Heathrow has them too!

And MIT held a public relations event

Dinner entertainment was pole-dancing! I thought it was kinda ironic since this is the Middle East after all... but I was told it's more "sophisticated" than belly dancing.

One guy at our table took offence and turned his back on the dancers facing us instead. I resisted the temptation to point out to him that we weren't exactly family either!

The singer had an awesome voice! She sang "Killing Me Softly"

The perfect ending- delicous :)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

This is Sad...

Rent-a-friend in Japan

Lola is a Persian cat who works at the Ja La La Cafe in Tokyo's bustling Akihabara district. It is one of a growing number of Cat Cafes in the city which provide visitors with short but intimate encounters with professional pets.

When I called, there were 12 felines and seven customers, mostly single men.

One man, in his early 30s, was attempting to bond with an Oriental Longhair by means of a rubber mouse.

Yutsuke, who speaks with a lisp, is normally rather shy with people. He longs for a cat of his own but frequent business trips make that difficult. Besides, he lives alone, so the Ja La La is his solution to the problem.

The right pet

It costs about £8 ($10) an hour to spend time in a Cat Cafe.

Tsu-chan, a rental dog out for a walk in Tokyo (Photo: Alfie Goodrich)
Busy lives mean some people prefer to hire a dog
If felines do not appeal, other establishments will rent you a rabbit, a ferret or even a beetle.

There are more than 150 companies in Tokyo which are licensed to hire out animals of various kinds and although beetles may be cheap, dogs are much more popular.

First you pay a deposit and a hire fee. Then you are issued with a leash, some tissues and a plastic bag and given some advice on how to handle your new friend.

Kaori is a pretty waitress who regularly spends her Sunday afternoons with a Labrador. They go for a walk in the park if the weather is fine, or if it is wet they just snuggle up in front of the TV in her apartment.

"When I look into his eyes, I think he's my dog," Kaori told me. "But when I take him back to the shop, he runs away from me and starts wagging his tail when he sees the next customer. That's when I know he's only a rental dog."

Every need considered

Of course, it is not only animals whose loyalties can be decided by money, as people who work in Japan's vast entertainment business will testify.

A man helps a child with her homework (Photo: Alfie Goodrich)
Some single women hire men to help with their children's homework
The industry offers an enormous variety of opportunities to exchange money for company.

Very popular at the moment is the Campus Cafe, where men go to socialise with female university students. It is cheaper than the upscale hostess clubs in which businessmen and politicians drink whisky with women in kimonos, although that is a business which is in crisis because of the recession.

Only a small proportion of the trade involves sex. Most hostesses are flatterers not prostitutes and customers come to find comfort in their words, not in their arms.

One specialist agency is known as Hagemashi Tai, which translates as I Want To Cheer Up Limited. It rents relatives. (Thank God for our desi family support structure!)

Actors are despatched to play the part of distant relations at weddings and funerals. For an extra fee, they will even give a speech.

But the firm's services do not stop there. It can also provide temporary husbands to single mothers who want them.

The website says the "dad" will help the children with their homework. He will sort out problems with the neighbours.

He will take the kids to a barbeque or to a park. He could also appear at the daunting interview with a nursery school head teacher which parents are required to endure in order to persuade the principal to give their child a good start in life.

Cry for help

There is a service for women who are about to wed too. Apparently, they can practise for married life with a hired husband, although whether this involves seduction or sock washing is not exactly clear.

Map of Japan showing the capital Tokyo
And if things are not working out with a real husband, a woman considering a divorce may choose to hire a "mother" in order to discuss her marital anxieties.

Mr M O from Shizuoka near Mount Fuji called upon the services of I Want To Cheer Up Ltd because he needed a father.

Mr M O has been blind since birth and had a number of concerns that he felt he could not speak to others about.

"I kept it all inside and couldn't deal with the criticisms that had been directed at me by my parents and teachers," he testified.

After some discussion, the company sent an older man to have dinner with him. "Usually I can't open up when I meet someone for the first time but on that occasion, I felt I was really talking with a normal father. I'll use the service again," he said.

Loneliness is a problem faced by many people on these crowded islands. But the Japanese are prone to believe that, in the right circumstances, money can turn a stranger into a friend... at least for a couple of hours.

Source: BBC