Into the pirate land

I was reading some of Conrad’s old stories set in South East Asia - mostly about the brave sailors and evil pirates. A hundred years on and there are pirates of a different kind here. The software pirates.

We were in a shopping mall in KL and we spotted several pirate stalls selling all the very latest software and DVDs. I got talking to one of the pirates. He was friendly enough. I asked him if was was concerned about the authorities cracking down on his business. He said they were doing it for the fake DVDs but he was pretty sure that it won’t happen for software.

A good name for a company selling imitation phone covers and accessories.

A shop was selling some old national geographic (50s thru 80s) , was very tempted to get it. But have no home, where to keep it.

Pirate shop, full house.

Lindows is a low cost linux based OS. The Pirates have not even spared Lindows.

Big time gaming. Game companies have figured out how to make money in-spite of the pirates.

The food In Chengdu

I had come to Chengdu via Bangkok for a reason. While at Bangkok, I had generously indulged in the green curry and the red curry. People had warned me about the fiery Sichuan Huoguo (hotpot). Fully confident I dipped into the huoguo. It was redder than the red curry in Thailand, and fiery it was. Here you see my equally spicy Sichuan friend Luomin at ease with the HuoGuo.


There is a new Indian restaurant in Chengdu called Tandoor. We visited this place one evening, The brochure advertised dance performance and showed a picture of two girls performing a traditional dance. Scam!! we got a northern girl imitating bollywood steps. Five more minutes and the little renmin Luomin would have also done it. The restaurant was nice though and they had the Kingfisher beer.


The dream of robots

One Sunday, I was online and I met a cousin of mine. We started talking about our childhood days in Bombay. We used to often visit each other’s place. She mentioned this one occassion when she was at our place, and we showed her this robot we had made.

I remembered the robot. It was a scam robot. It would not do much – just shake its arms and keep saying “I am a robot”. The body of the robot was made from old cans. The arms were built out of cardboard strips that were attached to a small motor hidden inside the body. We salvaged the motor out from an old Japanese toy. (We would go to a local flea market, looking for spare parts for our experiments.) We had a hidden tape recorder and we had rigged the speaker to the robot. The initial plan was to have a light sensor on the robot that detects people and starts playing the tape. We never got around getting one of those light sensors so instead we made a “trick switch”. Whenever someone stood in front of the robot, I would turn the switch on. The robot would say things like “Hello, I am a robot. What are you?” or “Hello, carbon based life form”. The robot did not live for long, we took it apart. We needed spare parts for some other experiment.

There were very few foreign programs on Indian television those days, our favorites were Fireball X-L 5 and Jhonny Sokko and his Giant Robot . Both these programs featured robots. We used to spend a lot of time talking about robots. We wondered if one day they would take over the world. Will they?

The theme song from Fireball XL5 is such a joy to listen to. 

The future of music industry

You are in Bangkok . You love transiting here.  What other airport offers you flights to Bhutan and North Korea – the two least visited places in the world. You have time to kill, you head for the bus stand, you pay 100 bahts and buy a ticket to Kaosan Road . Kaosan is the backpacker capital of the east. You arrive light. Ten USD gets you generous amount of clothes for the rest of your trip. And then Kaosan has decent green curry. You walk by the makeshift shops selling trinkets, postcards, used and fake lonely planets and then you spot the busiest stall – the one selling CDs – pirated of course.

Two days later, you are in Chiang Rai, the northernmost part of Thailand . You have spent the day in Tachileik, up in Myanmar . You have hopped into Lao. You are looking for something quiet. You are walking by the market, you spot a s small pub. You decide to rest there for a while and write some postcards. You meet Nook(or something that sounds like that), she runs the pub. Nook sits in one corner, a little girl, Nook’s assistant probably, sits on a stool in another corner playing a board game. Nook is trying to scam you. She wants you to buy her a drink. You say “the whole shop is yours, you can drink whatever you want”. You add “I came up north hoping the girls here are not scam”. Now you’ve hurt her(or she pretends). She says that she is not scam. She is quiet. You feel bad, but you still don’t want to get scammed. You tell her “Ok, I will buy you a drink, but not in your pub, somewhere else maybe”. She says “You are lucky, there is a rock show tonight, I will take you”. You say “great”.

Nook hands over the pub to the little girl. The little girl is sad, she probably wants to go home…a few more years, she will be older and she won’t go home at all.

Nook has a little car. The little car has furry interior and some more furry toys in the back seat. You try not to imagine anything wild. You guys drive out on the main road. It doesn’t take long to figure out that the rock show is big deal. There are kids all around, on bikes, overflowing out of cars, heading the same way as you. it’s a party environment. At the traffic lights, people roll the windsheild down and exchange beer cans with whoever is next to them. At the venue, it is a bigger party. You make friends fast and you know it is not because of the alcohol flowing around. People are generally friendly. You know the energy of live shows – the feedback. And, you are here to re-live the small town rock shows. No fancy gimmicks, no lasers, just nasty acoustics and a band – high on god knows what and ready to please. The band starts performing, the crowd goes into riot mode. The band is called Kerebau – actually, a famous band. Nook tells you that it means water buffalo.  That explains the reason some people in the audience are carrying horns over their head and dancing.

Across Asia, you may go to Bagio(.ph), Shenzhen(.cn), Saigon(.vn) or Bangalore(.in), you just need to be in the town on that one Friday night for that rock show and the party follows. What happens when local bands and their music starts becoming popular (Kerabau is actually a well known band in Thailand). How will they beat piracy? How will they survive in an environment where their fans assume that music is for free? You just have to spend a day in any campus, and you know how much of file (mp3) sharing is happening. Ironically, this is the region where more and more younger people are becoming content producers. Your little friend Lynn, makes movies clandestinely in her dorm in Guangzhou . She hopes to direct music videos some day. But Lynn needs inspiration, Lynn needs to study techniques. Legal DVDs are out of the question. Lynn has to resort to pirates. The next generation of content producers are the biggest pirated content consumers of today.

You believe that music should be free and it is the “performance” that should be charged for (you still have to figure out how your idea will work with movies or books). Piracy can never die. The music companies build a lock to protect their content, and all they do is provide a couple of days entertainment to some Russian hackers.

You realize what would work well in Asia is the “Grateful Dead” model. Give away your music for free. Participate in more live concerts. The artists have to work hard but it is more fulfilling . You build a relationship with your fans. One other benefit of this is that a lot of money (spent on arranging the show) goes back to the local economy. This will prompt cities to organize more shows. Local bands get a chance to play as a lead-up band. The region is large enough to allow bands to go touring. You look forward to a day when Thai bands tour Philippines and vice versa. You have seen the popularity of Korean bands in China (and Japan , BoA a teenage Korean artist became the no. 1 selling artist in Japan last year) and how that fact alone prompts so many Chinese/Japanese/Taiwanese youngsters to learn Korean. And music is only a precursor to fashion and other cultural exports.

Got this quote from a website
“I don’t even know why I would want to be on a label in a few years, because I don’t think it’s going to work by labels and by distribution systems in the same way. The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. I see absolutely no point in pretending that it’s not going to happen. I’m fully confident that copyright, for instance, will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing. Music itself is going to become like running water or electricity. So it’s like, just take advantage of these last few years because none of this is ever going to happen again. You’d better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that’s really the only unique situation that’s going to be left. It’s terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn’t matter if you think it’s exciting or not; it’s what’s going to happen.”
David Bowie (from an interview on NY times in 2002)

Feeling At Home (In Nanjing, China)

From Shanghai I took the train to Nanjing , passed the three hour journey playing with the little kid sitting next to me, amusing her with my origami dragons. I had read about Nanjing in Vikram Seth ’s “From Heaven Lake”. In the early 80s, He studied at the Nanjing University and hitchhiked to Delhi via Tibet and Nepal .

A curious bird at the Ming tombs

One afternoon I went up the purple hill. There is an observatory up the hill with some bronze instruments from the Ming dynasty times. Nanjing served as the capital during the Ming dynasty and several Ming tombs are located here. I visited the tomb of the founding emperor and his empress. Sun Yat Sen’s (considered as the father of modern China ) mausoleum is also in Nanjing . To reach the tomb, I had to climb a huge stone stairway. On the way back, I sat on the steps and wrote some postcards. One afternoon, I went to the Nanjing Museum. Soldiers were practicing martial arts on the museum grounds. The museum was having an exhibition of Tibetan relics and gems. At the entrance was a huge bronze of a goddess. Each room had two armed security guards. There were trying very hard to seem strict but they smiled easily. A Tibetan girl was selling some trinkets. I wished her in “tashey dele ” - hello in Tibetan. She was happy and she gave me a poster featuring a goddess.

Sun Yat Sen’s Memorial

I stayed in the university campus. A lot of foreign students study at the university. I met some interesting people like the formidable Misiba from Togo . Misiba addressed everyone as xiao pengyou (little friend). Nanjing is the capital of Jiangsu province. Yet, It still feels like a small university town. The street markets Vikram Seth wrote about, continue to thrive. and sell interesting stuff. One of these days I will return to Nanjing and hopefully study there.

From Nanjing I went to Guangzhou . I had passed through Guangzhou last year, just spending a few hours. I decided to stay in an old part of the city called Shamien Dao. There are some interesting old buildings here and almost everyday you can spot some art students painting.