Saturday, April 30, 2011

Soft Power

When I was in Taiwan, I was interviewed on Radio Taiwan International on the Soft Power show with my friend Jonathan Seidman.  We discuss Taiwan and India, India Future of Change and soft power as sex appeal.

Saturday Morning

Fresh, strong Vietnamese coffee dripped over a dollop of condensed milk courtesy of the remaining Ha. Nice to be home (one of the many).


Who you gonna call?


The night was punctuated with me falling asleep in the bed of a girl I was pretty sure was gone for the weekend, only to have her show up drunk and sick and shocked to find this ghost in her bed. Good times for the look of confusion on all faces that followed. Ah, the couch is always comfy.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Phantom of Annenberg

"It's like the ghost of Paul just walked in to Annenberg"
-Sona Krikorian

A spectre has been haunting Annenberg of late. A spectral force haunting the place he once lived and roamed.  Like Ellison's Invisible Man, this opaque white apparition has been investigating a world he left behind.  Things change a little.  Things change a lot.

Fascinating to see where I have been replaced, like by Soviet Propaganda.  As if anything other than the KGB could follow me.  Or by a rocket scientist, something that left me supremely happy.  I have been lurking through the shadows of a world that is no longer mine, yet I keep stumbling on traces of my remaining presence.

And I have been playing purveyor of perspective on for those with trepidation of a life beyond Annenberg.  I have been offering a lot of support, and a simple reminder that it's hard to tell which way the winds are blowing from the eye of the storm.  Patience, I have been counseling.  India really has done a number on me.

I walked north on Fig, through the zombie-filled streets of the Angels.  Those pushing suitcases pushed south as they cursed at their own ghosts.  Sad.  This city needs a lot of help, and there are so many who will never get it.  But who was I to say this self-banter was strange?  This ghost was talking to himself as well, as he narrated his own tales in his head on the walk to the metro to whisk him away.

23rd St. Cafe

And I'm back on Portland st, in my old house.  Occupying the room of a roomie out of town, who has been negligent in the payment of an aria. I am lunching at the immaculate 23rd St Cafe, where the owner Gopal is an Indian fusion pioneer. Menu includes Chicken Tikka tacos and Masala quesadillas. India Future of Fusion Cuisine.  I had a lil role in such dishes.

But I needed dal and rice to feed my addiction.  And delicious malai kofta.  First time since leaving India that I have had such deliciousness.  I chowed down with my fingertips.  Some people get by in life with the help of Eskimo Brothers, I rely on the kindness of friends.

Down with the King

‎"Mecca? Yo! you want the mecca? Yo!
I'll make a funky beat so we can blow, check it out"




And even funnier: DMC's love affair w/ Sarah McLachain courtesy of the Moth & E-Rock.

The Continuing Angelic Adventures of Don Pablo Quijote

"La vida es rica, hay que vivirla"
-The Professor of Surf, Salvador

The black chameleon porsche sped along the drive as we talked family. I concluded on two points:
  • "All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." -Tolstoy
  • Mother's Day is coming.
My flipflop broke and I was left barefoot in the streets while the black porsche sped away.  I sat on the metro, munching some stashed candy and ginger (TY Nomi) and realized that no one appreciates CPD's candy more than moi.

And there I was, at Rosa Parks station, a barefoot poet explaining dogs and loyalty, Argus and Homer to an enormous father as an itt-bitty afropup licked his son's nose.  How utterly Homeric. As is such for an avenging angel returning to the city of wings. Lest we forget that Lucifer was the most resplendent angel before the fall.

The beauty of the Angels: walking barefoot through its teeming streets, I am still no crazier than anyone else.   I made a barefooted trek down Washington, as any good barefooted pilgrim would: slowly, with measured steps and eyes on the path ahead.  Thankfully, my soles had been hardened by the streets of Rishikesh.  And besides, thankfully there was no bullshit to dodge. I walked four blocks down until I found a zapateria.  But alas, it was for the fairer sex.  They sent me to their cousins just north in the fashion district, so I continued my yatra.  

I found a pair of flipflops from China.  For two bucks, you get what you pay for.  Alas, the new slippers were so uncomfortable and bound my feet so that I have continued to eschew footwear and my barefootedness remains.  Just another day in the life of Don Pablo Quijote, knight errant of the angels.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hail.

Thanks for the chuckles, Danny Snyder. It might almost be funny if it wasn't so f'ing pathetic.

Paul Revere

"Stepped into the wind, he had a gun and had a grin."

Time of your song

"Moonlight illuminate my night and my days sunray make the people say
And a vision something's missing so they're screaming out loud
Keep my feet on ground and my head in the clouds."
-Matisyahu

Laterna Magika

"States grow ever more machine-like, men are transformed into statistical choruses of voters, producers, patients, tourists or soldiers. In politics, good and evil, categories of the natural world and therefore obsolete remnants of the past, lose all absolute meaning; the sole method of politics is quantifiable success. Power is a priori innocent because it does not grow from a world in which words like guilt and innocence retain their meaning."
-Vaclav Havel

Pablo plays Pandora

"My DJ's cuts are presidential."
-K-os



"Guess I'm goin' out like a straight up menace."
-M.C. Eiht


"World gone by"


"O' sinnerman, where you gonna run to?"
-Nina Simone

Altneuland

Seattle storms have given way to cloudless California sun.  A few thoughts gleaned from a ride high above the Angels, and with a whiff of a sweet-tipped cigar in the metro car while the harmonica blared.  I few things of enjoyment from a rediscovered land:

  • The New Yorker, occasionally. Harper's, monthly.
  • Spanish, with an American friendliness therein.
  • Family: we may not realize it, but it is a blessing and gift from most high to have really cool family.
  • Classic cars: any yuppie weenie can drive a BMW; I love the finned beauties of yesteryear.
  • look up to stop a sneeze; look down to let it fly.
  • How the i-pod play lurid tricks with your ears
A few minor annoyances.  One of the things that always disturbed me in Lalaland is the disregard that some police pay to the laws they are supposed to uphold.  Often little stuff, and that is what I can weigh-in on from my own perspective, there probably is bigger stuff I am lucky to not be privy to.  

Stuff like parking. Like how the police park in the emergency lane outside Starbucks on Hoover.  Really?  Something I saw quite often in my USC days.  I was reminded of this ire the other day.  Down in Hermosa Beach, a cop parked his big ol' SUV police car in a pedestrian only area solely to go to the bank.  Really?  Emergency inside the bank, eh?  Hope you caught them.

Prof. Hollihan taught us students in my Media and Politics class that if parents disrespect, or speak disrespectfully, of figures of authority, then children are often socialized not to respect authority.  But there is a corollary: if these figures of authority don't respect the laws they are supposed to uphold then their own authority is undermined.

Sincerely

Dear Republicans,
Why is it that we had to suffer through your talk during the previous administration that to criticize Washington was to give comfort to the terrorists (it does)? Akin to treason. Now it is fashionable to blithely call Washington the enemy. Your hypocrisy is shameful.
Sincerely,
me.

Kalifornia


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Eat more rice, b-tch;16 tons; Breton

Damn you, Asia! You have made me a f'ing rice addict. What would a rice intervention entail? Quinoa? Thankfully I found some Lebanese falafel to curb my hunger, but mournfully gazed at the dolmades which would have given me my precious-s-s-s.

Meanwhile, I had to handle some banking business upon my return to Lalaland.  I had received an email from Citibank that since I would soon be graduating (glad to see how well they keep tabs), my account would be switching to a regular package.  With such illustrious mattresses, I would require a $6,000 minimum or I would be charged $20 per month.  How many graduates do you know with that kind of cash?  But, went into the branch, and thankfully because I owe my soul to the company store via student loans I qualify for a better package.  Upgraded cabins on the Titanic.

I walked down the pier to where the fishermen cast their lines into the Pacific's majestic.  The sea winds whispered poems in my ears.

Oh, God thy sea is so vast and my ship is so small.
-Breton Fishermen's prayer

Don Pablo Quijote returns to LA Mancha

I headed out of Seattle into the dreary cold rain.  My sister drove me down to the Westlake station so I could hop the light rail out to the airport.  On the ride, I chatted with a lovely grandparent couple who were up in Seattle from Berkeley to see their grandbabies.  He was a professor of development at Berkeley for some years, and had worked in the field in India in the 1950s.  What a different world it must have been from the India I know.  We chatted about social action, Quakers and development as the light rail meandered to the airport.

The security lines were a bit long, and I decided it was better to let my lunch be radiated than go through the hastle of a thorough pat down.

On the first leg of my flight from Seattle to LA, I was finagling my way into a free drink from the stewardess. I mentioned that I was on my way home from a year abroad, and had been living in India. She said something to the effect that it must be so great to be back because of all the third-world poverty. I replied that India was booming. Her response was that it was probably because they are taking all our jobs. I tried to explain that there had been studies showing that India’s boom had been helping to save American jobs, but my explanations fell on deaf ears.

At INDIA Future of Change, we help to project an India that is a global partner and leader in global affairs; what is still required is for India, and China, to use public diplomacy to explain to a weary West in economic recession that their respective rises are part of a non-zero sum game of global prosperity, and that the rising tides raise all boats.  But that is a longer blog for another day.

The descent into Reno proved rocky, probably one of the worst I have ever experienced.  A stewardess had to grab a kid an put him in a seat belt as the turbulence tossed us.  Another stewardess had the white baggy out and was a shade to match.  We landed on a rollercoaster ride, and the green stewardess let out a little scream.  I had my hands up like I was on one of LaMarcus Thompson's progeny.  The ride to LA was more manageable as we descended into the hazy sprawl.

"Cough up 25 bucks and take a supershuttle or a cab and put some money in the hands of a hard working American," my cousin said.  But I opted to keep my money in the hands of a hardly working American, and opted for public transit.  As the first bus sped away to the metro, there was a reminder on the back of a big yellow bus that augured providential: Journey On!  Thanks Hertz for the reminder.

Off the bus and at the metro, I was greeted back to LA with a stunning view of a daytime black moon- that of a homeless guy's ass.  Welcome back to Lalaland.

From Redondo, I hopped the beach cruiser transit bus, then a metro bus and hoofed the final 15 minutes to my Hermosa beach palace with mis primos.  My cousin said that if I am not out by June 1st, I am getting evicted; I am already claiming squatter's rights.


3 the hard way

u-oou, I put my little thing in action
smoother, than sat-tin
or Special Ed when he was taxin'
headz relax and play tha' back when I spill
I regulate a flow like chicks on birth control pills-
ill anitics keep it movin' on
bouncin' like nylon from illadel 2 Lebanon - (no
doubt)
Bahamadia, "3 the Hard Way"

Foreign Policy: The Food Issue

Foreign Policy's latest edition is on food. Lamentably, no gastrodiplomacy included. I sent them a piece once on gastrodiplomacy but they form replied no thanks. Maybe now that FP has the issue on its plate, I might be able to offer a future dish.

Titular

INDIA Future of Change hosted 26 young African parliamentarians in Delhi as part of Indian-African exchange. This comes before the India-Africa Summit later in May. IFC hosed these parliamentarians from 11 African countries. The Indian media picked up on our work. Too bad that there isn't a good copy editor among some 3 or so news services that circulated a story with a titular headline including the word "incresed." I think I will help offer a new definition. Incresed: meaning increased to an even higher degree.

Ah, but I ain't mad at ya.  We have another great piece in a different source on the African parliamentary cultural exchange and the public diplomacy therein.

And a nice video spot to boot.

Word of the Day

Word of the day: moogerfooger. One rupee for anyone who can tell me wtf a moogerfooger is.

Monday, April 25, 2011

“Folks who have no virtues have very few vices.”
-Abraham Lincoln

"Eccentric in every virtue and vice."
-Paul Rockower

The Seattle Underground

On a dreary Easter Sunday, I hopped the bus downtown to meet my “big sis” Kay to do an underground tour of Seattle. From Pioneer Square, there is a tour of Seattle’s netherworlds, which came highly recommended by my little sis. The tour hall was bustling. We sat in an old style saloon to get a 20-minute overview of Seattle’s history, which was fascinating.

Seattle was founded in 1851 in the Oregon Territory. The area had been settled a bit by the Hudson Bay Company from Canada, a reminder that it wasn’t just India or Indonesia that was colonized and controlled by companies. There was a fear at the time by the US gov that the territory might be taken by Canada. The guide quipped, “Can you imagine if Seattle was Canada? ….I might have health care then.”

Anyway, the government offered a homesteading act that offered 320 acres to single persons or 640 acres to families who would settle the land; a reminder that government redistribution is not a new concept. So Arthur Denny and 24 settlers set out from Illinois to settle the great Northwest.

When Denny and his party arrived to the area, they were greeted by a native American tribe, the Duwamish. The tribe took the white settlers to their chief, Seattle. Seattle had previously held contact with “Boston Men,” what he called the white men who had arrived before, since they had been sailing men from Boston. So Chief Seattle and the tribe taught the Denny party to farm and fish in salt water. Denny later recalled that his party would have perished in 2 years or less had it not been for Chief Seattle’s help. In gratitude, the settlement post was named for the Indian chief, as the guide noted the only major American city named for a native American person.

So the city was far different then, with tidewaters much higher. There were all sorts of anecdotes about attempts to reclaim land from tide flats, like filling it in with saw dust from the lumber mills. Nice idea, but building on such shaky ground caused the buildings to quickly sink, that and the water plus sawdust shavings plus the sewage made for a wonderful science experiment in diseases.

Anywho, Seattle got a huge boom from the California Gold Rush in 1849. San Francisco had depleted all of its timber in a building boom, plus the weekly fires caused by the combination of wood buildings, candles and booze. A fellow named Henry Yesler and his innovation in creating a steam-powered sawmill that cut wood three times faster than previous methods led to Seattle to boom as well.

We also heard about Seattle’s battles with plumbing. All sorts of fun stories about reverse pressure buildups that cause sewage geysers when the tide was in. As such, the Seattle newspapers had to print the tide tables in the corner of the front page.

Fast forward to 1889, when a grease fire burned Seattle to the ground. Town planners wanted to rebuild the city so that it wasn’t subject to tidal flooding, and also to deal with waste management issues. The plan to innovatively rebuild the city would have taken some 7-10 years, which business leaders nixed since they wanted the city rebuilt immediately for fears of Tacoma or Portland taking its entrepot place. So Seattle rebuilt quickly, with the innovative design being worked in more slowly. It built the roads at what would today be the second level not ground level, while people walked on the ground level- sometimes underground with skylights to give light. Eventually the roads were completed, and arched covers for the sidewalks filled in above the road to give Seattle a second level, which it stands at today.

Such a move to rebuild quickly proved fortuitous because the Klondike gold rush hit just a few years later, which delivered as the guide said a bigger boom to Seattle than any of the tech booms combined. Meanwhile, a few like John Nordstrom and Eddie Bauer, struck it extremely rich providing provisions for those seeking to strike it rich in the Yukon.

While on the interesting tour through the underground world, we heard all sorts of fascinating stories, like anecdotes about attempts to control the rat population in the face of bubonic plague. There was a 10 cent bounty on rats, payable for delivery of rat tales. This lasted until people started seeing tail-less rats and found out that enterprising boys were breeding the rats and chopping off the tails.

Another good tale was about a census taken during the 1890s to figure out the professional population of Seattle as a means for taxation. The census was shocked to discover that there were some 3,000 seamstresses in a certain area, and upon further investigation only found 6 sewing machines in the district. Rather than put a stop to the red light activities, Seattle merely taxed the “seamstresses” and rebuilt Seattle much on the back of their “work.” Taxing “seamstresses” at $10 per head was the largest source of revenue as Seattle rebuilt in the 1890s, and was something close to 87 percent of city revenue (if I wrote the figure correctly).

There were also some stories of race relations in Seattle, and the Chinese Riots in 1886. The Chinese were once appreciated for the cheap labor they provided, but as the job markets grew tighter, they were denounced as “unfair competition.” Racist labor guilds sprung up, and “law and order” groups argued for their removal (Minutemen militia? Tea, anyone?). Moreover, some racist judges carried out lawfare against the Chinese community, instituting racist labor laws against their employment. Things came to a head in a series of riots in 1886.

Seattle added a bit to the American lexicon, giving us the term "Skid Row," originally Skid Road based on the nicknamed street that sent timber coated in grease skidding down to the saw mill.

All and all, the tour was fascinating, and a real must-do when in Seattle. Some 250-300,000 people go on the tours every year, making it one of Seattle’s top attractions. Kay failed to mention to me when I proposed the tour that she had happened to go on the tour two weeks prior. As luck would have it, we had the exact same tour guide.

After the tour, Kay and I headed to her aunt’s place out in the country to have Easter dinner. The drive out was gorgeous. We drove past various shades of evergreens and past meandering rivers surrounded by trees covered in emerald moss. It was nice to see her sister, who I haven’t seen in some two decades as well as meet Kay’s niece and brother-in-law Curtis (a hulking Navy SEAL). Poor Kay was mortified on the occasions when discussions came to politics as her family had a bit different views than my own on politics, but I laughed it off and got to listen to some very different perspectives on American politics (“God Bless the Tea Party for shaking up Washington.”).

He: You know, I just wish a nuclear bomb would go off on Washington.
Me: Umm…my family lives in Washington.

She: Well, you would understand if you were a small business owner.
Me: Well you would understand if you were swimming in an ocean of college debt and had no healthcare (italics equals things in my head and better left unsaid)

All and all, it was a great day spent swimming through history, memory and family.

Perspectives

She: You know, Palin has really made people think.
Me: Really?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Nanny who saved Baby Moishe

My friend Aimee Ginsburg has an incredibly poignant piece about Sandra Samuel, who saved Baby Moishe in the Mumbai Attack.

SAM I am

I headed into downtown, passing through Pike’s Place and past a hard sell for a good cause (www.planusa.org, told you I wouldn’t forget) and on to the Seattle Art Museum. SAM for short. Past giant white tauruses with neon spokes of light, and into the gallery.

“Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast” by Albert Bierstadt

So pristine, so romantic so free.

There was a Remington bronze bust of a cowboy's valor.  Ride hard, through the ages, ride hard.

There was a chain mail suit made from dog tags, its silver spilling on the floor

As I was writing about this piece, the Department of Bic Homeland Security made its presence felt.  As I was pondering pens and crazies, I stumbled upon a giant black 6 ft rat, on its hind legs, towering on the white blanket of a man sleeping.  Shall we discuss crazies?

And then I found an aleph.  An aleph is nothing short of a brief glimpse of the beginning point of time and space. This aleph happened to be found in "Leaves" by Gloria Petyarr.  An aleph is a glimpse of the universe overlapped, of everything and nothing.  It is a fleeting glimpse of Divinity.

I shudder at finding an omega, the place where time and space end.  Few living have seen an omega.  "Now I become Shiva, the destroyer of worlds," said Oppenheimer as he glimpsed his omega.  Yet perhaps all see an omega when their time comes.

With an aleph comes clarity, like that of a hawk zeroing in on its prey, perched from a rock above the white waves.  The sound of waves echo across the golden Japanese sky.

I headed upstairs to picture of African life cycled on the wall.  There were stunning ornamental ivory salt cellars- large white eggs of ivory to hold sodium's bounty for the kings of Portugal, and a reminder that gastroimperialism has a far longer history than gastrodiplomacy.

And then I stumbled into the sumptuous porcelain room.  Mirror and porcelain playing lurid games of illusions.  A porcelain wonderland.

I walked to the Center of the Earth, but was unmoved, save for a button suit that reminded me of a cascade of button rain in Mexico City.

I really liked the SAM, save for one knock I had on it.  It could have had better linear design.  The exhibit rooms jumped around a bit much for my tastes and was a tad too eclectic in design.  Nothing to deduct major points, but a distraction and detraction nonetheless.

The Paparazzi


As I was walking down the street by Pike's Market, a fellow stopped to take a picture.  Assuming that he was trying to snap a pic of the bus behind me, I moved to get out of his way.  He moved with me and snapped a picture of me.  I gave a slightly startled smile.  I am used to the Indian paparazzi, but the white paparazzi are new to me. 

I wonder what made me an interesting picture to him?  A stewardess on the flight home said I looked like a movie star.   In my borrowed knitted scarf and hat and grey wool overcoat, maybe I just looked the Seattle part. The scarf I was wearing had twice previously received compliments as a lovely knitting job, maybe he was a knit aficionado.  Somehow, I don’t think that was his reason.  But I’ll never know.

Last supper

While I wish all my Christian friends a Happy Easter, I have to ask: do you think Jesus had a ham at the Last Supper? Willing to be shekels to donuts that he was having matza this week, not bone-in spiral glazed ham. Just sayin...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pics from last days in Delhi

I can't believe these pics were taken this same month. April has been long.

From Qutb Minar Flower Market & Lotus Temple

From Qutb Minar

From Dancing in the streets of Delhi after India win over Pak

A Beacon of Light: The Public Diplomacy of Kurdistan

I have a new blog on Kurdish public diplomacy for the USC Center on Public Diplomacy:
“Five million Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan have become a beacon of light for the 35 million Kurds who live in Turkey, Syria, and Iran. That beacon of light is keeping us awake at night and is filling our hearts with hope.”
-Kani Xulam, Director of the American-Kurdish Information Network

For marginalized or underrepresented states, public diplomacy is a key component of drawing global public attention to the cause. For Iraqi Kurdistan, public diplomacy represents a vital area of outreach in bringing awareness to “the Kurdish Question.”

While working on a project on the public diplomacy of national movements, I had the privilege to chat with Representative Qubad Talabani, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s de facto Ambassador to the United States of America. In speaking with the debonair diplomat, we discussed various elements and aspects of Kurdish public diplomacy.

In defining the mission of Kurdish public diplomacy, Talabani stated, “I think if there is one word that sums it up, it is education. It is about educating a public on what Kurdistan is, who it is you are, and what it is you’re trying to do…by educating policy makers and public opinion, to serve your people’s goals, agendas, or objectives.”

From the brutal Anfal campaign in the mid-1980s, in which Saddam Hussein’s regime gassed parts of Iraqi Kurdistan and razed Kurdish villages to the ground, the need for Kurdish public diplomacy as a means to educate the global public became a paramount concern for the Kurdish movement. This meant the need to strategically focus on educating policy makers and global public opinion about Kurdistan. The Kurdish movement began constructing a more formal dialogue with U.S. policy makers in the wake of the Kurdish uprising in 1991 and the vicious reprisals that was meted out by the Ba’athist regime on the Kurds as Western support fail to materialize to support the insurrection, and with Operation Provide Comfort in which a No-Fly Zone was instituted in northern Iraq.

Much has changed in the decades since. Today, Iraqi Kurdistan has a functioning, legitimate regional government. Over the years, Kurdish public diplomacy has matured, and the Kurdistan Regional Government has increased its outreach. Talabani noted that whereas early Kurdish public diplomacy focused on the political power centers in Washington or New York, during the Second Gulf War (Operation Iraqi Freedom) the Kurdish issue became a national issue and there was a need to conduct wider public diplomacy across the United States. Meanwhile, an outreach campaign to areas with Kurdish Diaspora populations became more robust, and efforts were made to empower Kurdish communities in the U.S. to become more engaged as local public diplomats.

As Middle America became more interested in information about Kurdistan and its importance in U.S. foreign policy and the war effort, invitations came in for speaking engagements at universities, public affairs committees, and chambers of commerce across the country.

In this enhanced outreach, Representative Talabani noted that with speaking engagements came an opportunity to listen, and to better understand the messages that resonate with different American audiences. Perhaps the most telling anecdote of Kurdistan’s outreach to broader swathes of the U.S. population is seen in the dual Kurdistan-Texas flags in Representative Talabani’s office, which declares: “Don’t Mess with Texas, Don’t Mess with Kurdistan.”

Representative Talabani spoke of framing the Kurdish message with language that the American public understands. He stated: “It is us trying to tell Americans that we are not that different to you. We like the principles of democracy, we like the principles of pluralism, we believe in the principles of overcoming oppression and we’ve seen you do it. We’re inspired by what you’ve done and we are trying to do it ourselves.”

Another area where Kurdistan has been conducting greater public diplomacy outreach is in the area of cultural affairs. Representative Talabani noted that the Kurdistan Regional Government had opened a Cultural Affairs Department in its DC office. As such, one of the first things that the office did was conduct outreach to Hollywood as a means to make Hollywood more interested in the Kurdish story. He mentioned that the executives from Sony and Miramax were brought out to Kurdistan to educate Hollywood on the beauty of Kurdistan’s landscapes for film scenery as well as to help raise Hollywood’s interest in the story of Kurdistan’s struggles. Talabani noted that he hoped to also host a Kurdish Film Festival in the U.S. in the future, and use cultural diplomacy as an avenue for greater understanding about Kurdistan.

For the Kurdistan Regional Government, public diplomacy and cultural diplomacy represent key vehicles for which the issue of Kurdistan can be projected internationally, and more understanding and appreciation can be generated for the Kurdish cause. Effective Kurdish public diplomacy ensures that the Kurds will no longer be voiceless in the world, and will not be forgotten.

Friday, April 22, 2011

SAM's Questions

As a prolific question-asker, I thought these were excellent questions:
  • What is art?
  • What does art mean to you?
  • Does art have to be beautiful?
  • Where do you find art in your life?
  • What is a museum?
  • What inspires you?
  • How can art change the world?

Pens and Danger

‎"Pens are dangerous," I said.


"In the hands of a crazy person," the flaxen-haired security guard replied. 

And with that I was handed a stubly pencil from out of a sweater. No pens in the Seattle Art Museum. In her defense, I have been known to touch statue relics.

"Beware the man who has ideas, for he is dangerous."
-Harry E. Rockower, the Elder

"Beware the man who has a pen, for he is dangerous."
-Paul S. Rockower, the only.

The president speaks

My hermano Harry has a nice video talking about Jewish life at College of Charleston.  Good work, el presidente.



3T cont

Stunningly brilliant & British take in the Guardian on 3T: The US swallowed these cups of tea to justify its imperial aims:
Mortenson's feet of clay expose far more than one fantasist: they also reveal a lot about the naivety of Americans concerning the world and their role in it. No one questioned him too closely, and, more importantly, no one listened closely enough to what the Pakistanis themselves had to say: the unravelling of the Mortenson fable has come as no surprise there. Even in such a highly connected world, some forms of information still don't travel and certainly make no headway against the word of an American hero. Americans swallowed his tale because they wanted to. What empires – particularly those involved in violent conflict – need, above all, is heroes.

3Tea Affair cont

Writing in the New Yorker, Peter Hessler offers a different perspective as a former Peace Corps volunteer:
Another reason I’ve always had trouble talking about Mortenson’s books is that it’s hard to give an alternative for people who feel the need to act. Even before the reports of C.A.I.’s mismanagement, I saw little value in this model of development. It’s centered around a foreigner, and the foreigner has no special expertise in either education or Central Asia. Even a balanced and reasonable individual is likely to fail in this situation. Mostly, I don’t believe that problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan stem from a lack of money or a lack of school buildings. There are deep-rooted cultural issues, as there are in any part of the developing world, where obstacles tend to be complicated and localized. Contact is the most critical starting point—it helps to have foreigners living in and learning about these places, just as it helps to have Central Asians studying abroad. As knowledge deepens, the people involved are more likely to find solutions to local problems. But most folks who read “Three Cups of Tea” are not interested in living in northwestern Pakistan and learning how to speak Pashto. They want to donate money from a distance, and they want to be part of something that shows tangible, physical results, like a new school building.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

WTF!

Just got denied a drink at a bar because my license is expired. I'm f'ing 31 years old! Welcome back to the good ol'...

Toned Down

I always marvel upon my return to America that it reminds me of the movie Traffic. It that movie, all the scenes in Mexico have a sepia tint, while all the scenes in the US have a sanitized bluish tone. It seems that way when I return from chocked, crowded India full of sounds, smells and sights to the sanitized American landscape of wide space. The lack of din and honks make everything seem so quiet, yet ironically as I noted the onslaught of English means that it seems louder on a personal level in my own head.

Nantes

"Beirut as the musical background of daily life makes the world sound like a vibrant travelling circus... which might just be it..." Merci Aurelie pour les paroles et la vidéo!



The 3Tea Affair

As usual, Nick Kristof offers some great perspective on Greg Mortensen and the 3 Cups of Tea affair:
I don’t know what to make of these accusations. Part of me wishes that all this journalistic energy had been directed instead to ferret out abuses by politicians who allocate government resources to campaign donors rather than to the neediest among us, but that’s not a real answer. The critics have raised serious questions that deserve better answers: we need to hold school-builders accountable as well as fat cats.

My inclination is to reserve judgment until we know more, for disorganization may explain more faults than dishonesty. I am deeply troubled that only 41 percent of the money raised in 2009 went to build schools, and Greg, by nature, is more of a founding visionary than the disciplined C.E.O. necessary to run a $20 million-a-year charity. On the other hand, I’m willing to give some benefit of the doubt to a man who has risked his life on behalf of some of the world’s most voiceless people.

I’ve visited some of Greg’s schools in Afghanistan, and what I saw worked. Girls in his schools were thrilled to be getting an education. Women were learning vocational skills, such as sewing. Those schools felt like some of the happiest places in Afghanistan.

I also believe that Greg was profoundly right about some big things.

He was right about the need for American outreach in the Muslim world. He was right that building schools tends to promote stability more than dropping bombs. He was right about the transformative power of education, especially girls’ education. He was right about the need to listen to local people — yes, over cup after cup after cup of tea — rather than just issue instructions.

I worry that scandals like this — or like the disputes about microfinance in India and Bangladesh — will leave Americans disillusioned and cynical. And it’s true that in their struggle to raise money, aid groups sometimes oversell how easy it is to get results. Helping people is more difficult than it seems, and no group of people bicker among themselves more viciously than humanitarians.

The Halls of Olympius

I hopped a bus from Ballard downtown, marveling at the open space and complete silence of the Seattle bus. It was a far cry from my Delhi morning commute. I popped out at Seneca and 3rd, and walked a block downhill south to catch a Sound Transit to the Tacoma Dome Station. On the way out of town, I admired the public art projects and resplendent graffiti murals.

I got off in Tacoma and killed a little time looking for a Citibank or 7-11, which has Citibank ATMs. Never thought I would miss the everpresent Taipei 7-11s until they were gone. I boarded the bus, but lacked the necessary change. The bus driver didn’t have any, and there was only one other woman on the bus and she didn’t have change for a five-dollar bill either. I offered the driver that I would find change from a later patron, but the woman was kind enough to give me a $1.50. I offered her a Chang Kai-Shek NTD as thanks but she laughed and said she just tossed all her old yen. I promised to find her change later, but she said not to worry.  I offered to thus pay it forward.

As more and more people got on the bus, I felt like Gulliver after his return to London. Upon his return to London from adventure, poor Gulliver had to stick straw up his nose to fight against the noxious smells of the world he called home; I had to plug my ears with my headphones to drown out the sounds of English that were invading my head.  I find it kind-of maddening to suddenly understand all conversations, as if their voices are invading my skull.  But Blaze Foley provided some welcome relief as we drove through thick forests of evergreen pine.

I made my way to Olympia to visit my old friend and Prague roommate Marko. These days, Marko is the great legislator Markocratus. I hopped off the bus in Olympia, outside the giant sandstone and granite dome.  I walked across lawn, the smell of fresh-cut grass seeming so quintessentially American and reminding me of mowing the lawn at my parents home, and past white cherry blossoms.  I walked through the immense iron doors of the state house, with scenes of Washington life cast into metal, and into the giant marble foyer.  I asked the information desk for the office of the great Markocratus, and was told he was in a modular office outside.  I replied that there must be some mistake, as office of the Demosthenes of the Pacific Northwest was surely in the rotunda.

I made my way to his office, but he was off in caucus, so a legislative aide escorted me to the house floor. He had also been an aide at the Oregon State House, so we chatted about the differences therein.  Lacking a tie for proper decorum, I was unable to enter the house floor so Marko came and met me.

We headed out for lunch, but first were stopped by some of Marko's constituents.  A number of teachers were there to fight against freezes to their salaries as proposed in the new budget.  I stood as a fly on the wall, watching Marko chat with the teachers, listening to their stories and concerns, and detailing what his efforts entailed to fight on their behalf.  I was moved by the story of one teacher who was chatting with him.  She spoke about the issues with class size, and the ability to deliver an effective education with proper school size numbers.  She also spoke a bit about her personal story, and how freezes to teachers' salaries would effect her.  She is paying down her undergrad and grad debts, and as such, has been living in low-income housing for ten years.

I have to admit I got chills watching the interactions between Marko and the teachers.  My civic jollies.  All politics is local, and I have always respected state-level politics as perhaps the closest and most direct example of politics.  Admittedly, being a wandering nomad means I can't often follow it as close as I do national or international issues, but those who toil in the state houses have my admiration.

We regrouped for lunch with two members of the firefighters lobby and a deputy insurance commissioner.  It was a fascinating yet hysterical affair.  Marko has always had one of the best and jovially biting senses of humor of anyone I know, and it is nice to see him wield it in politics.

We returned to the state house to see the legislative aides be honored for their efforts.  I borrowed a tie to enter the House floor, and looked like quite a tool with a tie tucked into my red zip-up jacket.  Marko returned to caucus so I took a tour of the Washington State House.

I learned all about the building's construction, how it was built all from timber money and not taxes in the 1920s.  The doors that displayed the Washington West of Timber and the Washington East of grazing. The lawn was landscaped by the famous Olmstead Brothers.  We heard about the lovely Tiffany's chandeliers, the main one as large as a WV beetle.  We passed through the marble halls and through the state senate and house chambers, and discussed the nuances of Washington State.  As a real Washingtonian, I was curious to know why Washington State couldn't be more original.  The tour guide said that originally Washington State petitioned to be the State of Columbia, but that got nixed by the District of Columbia so they went with Washington.  We also talked about the major differences between the state's East and West.  The East is conservative, grazing territory, more akin to Idaho; the logger cascadia West is the liberal timber country I know.

We finished the tour and Marko finished his day, and we headed over to Costco to buy provisions for a party he was hosting at his place for the legislative aides.  I told Marko of my Costco fears, he offered to bring me a plastic bag if I hyperventilated.  Thankfully, I didn't need to be sedated and we got all the fixings for a taco party at his place.

We returned and had a lovely party with all the Democratic legislative aides.  I love epistemic communities that geek out over their passions.  I also loved that all the aides kept asking who I worked for, wondering why they had never seen this aide before; I laughed and usually offered a reply of: no one.  I made matza nachos with sour cream, bean dip, cheese, scallions, guacamole and cheese (the Hebrews never had it so good!), and sipped wine as we chatted about issues near and far.  Marko and I chatted late into the night of all that ails our fair Republic.

All and all, it was great to catch up with an old friend.  I look forward to watching Marko's rise in politics, he has a bright future ahead of him.

PS: The Kyrgz Parliament sacrificed 7 sheep to expel evil spirits from the parliamentary body.  Hmm...I wonder what they could do in Olympia?  Sacrifice Oregonians? Рахмат Abba! 

The Seattle Model

I have always liked and respected Seattle for the progressive model it offers for American cities. It has modern transportation infrastructure, with speedy light rails, underground bus passageways and quaint monorails to speed above the city. It has a wonderful system of recycling and compost. Wifi is relatively ubiquitous. Seattle has a thriving arts scene, with innovative new museums. It is replete with dynamic new architecture like the new Seattle Library. It has a welcoming culture of diversity and pluralism. In short, it is what I think the modern American city should be like. If only it had better weather.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Prayer of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.
 Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
            Where there is injury, pardon;
            Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
            And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
 Seek to be consoled as to console;
            To be understood as to understand;
            To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
            And it is in dying that we are born
 To eternal life.
-Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi,
at the Washington State Capitol,
in memory of John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Country Diplomacy cont

This comes from a note on my blog.  Thanks John for the heads-up and the photos:
Paul, you are spot on: my org, American Voices, did two projects in Jesse Dayton of Austin in Kazakhstan and Vietnam in 2005 and 2006, we called the project pairing him with local traditional musicians, Country Eastern, and it was a huge success with local audiences. Some photos here: http://americanvoices.org/projects/2006/kazakhstan/
Its definitely one of America's great art forms - John Ferguson

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Myths about vegans

While I am not vegan, and don't plan to be (I love cheese and eggs too much), I found this piece on myths about vegans interesting.

The Ballad of Ballard

Walking down wide streets
With white cherry blossoms
Set against wide powder white clouds
In wide powder blue skies.
-PR

Breaking Cellos


Sriracha Matza

New favorite matza snack: matza with cream cheese and Sriracha chili sauce.  Yum. Except when I squirt chili sauce in my eye :(

On Awareness

"Awareness: Enjoying a meaningful present when it comes."
-Aurelie Kernaleguen

Monday, April 18, 2011

Defending the second child

So as you may or may not be familiar with pessach, in the passover spiel there is the story of the four children.  First one is wise; second is mischievous.  Yet mischievous for this child's question, "What does passover mean to you?"  I am standing up for the second child, because I think the second child is ultimately a public diplomat.  This child is listening for your answer, and trying to understand you and your connection better.

While I hate to sell out a first child, that one is merely asking about the letter of laws.  The second one is more interested in the spirit of the holiday and what those laws mean to you.

The third child is simple, no reason to pay attention to him (o' Matzamoros!).

For the fourth one doesn't know how to ask, many rabbis say to start the question for this child.  I disagree.  I think the example of the fourth child requires that we show the child what the holiday means, not trying to feed a question.

Grilled Moshka; Happy Passover

A grilled cheese of a hand-grated mix of sheep's milk feta and sharp gouda.  Filled with roma tomatoes, red roasted peppers and grilled red onions, chilies and ginger.  Pita chips and humus on the side.  A dressed pacifico and a label and soda.  I welcome the passover with full gusto.  May we all find moshka from mitzrayim; may we all find liberation from our Egyptian karma.  Happy Pessach to all, and to all a good night. 

Tar and Feather

Ok, since it seems that the government isn't going to do anything to the thieves on Wall Street who really bankrupted this country, how about a little private vengeance?  Nothing too serious, just a proper tar and feathering for those who contributed to shaking down America's economy in the name of greed.  A little mob set down on corporate America to remind them that they are accountable for their actions, even if the the government won't hold them as such.

Yeats and the Poem Store

Down in the Ballard Weekend Market, I found a poem store.  A girl sitting on a crate with a red typewriter.  Poems for Sale.  She was busy penning poems of Sraw Rats for a lad.  I had a request: Yeats.  A second trip offered a second suggestion: Auden.  Titans for Titans.  The outcome of the purchased poem was worth its weight in words.

Yeats
Sudden end to verse, sudden
end to the roads we travel,
the dust kicked up, the thread
unraveled.  There is a bell,
it is brass, it sounds
as long as the verses last,
but the echo carries on;
line to line, page to page,
further along.  Hushed figure
on the road.  Retreating,
but not gone.

-M. Clark
Poem Store
April, 2011

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Country Diplomacy

I shoulda been a cowboy
I shoulda learned to rope and ride
Wearing my six-shooter, riding my pony, on a cattle drive
Stealing young girl's hearts
Just like Gene and Roy
Singing those campfire songs
Oh, I should've been a cowboy

-Toby Keith, Should've been a Cowboy

A bloggy that I have been holding on to for a while, and I am glad to finally pen is the need for a lil Country Diplomacy.  Needed to be back in the good ol' US of A to let it distill like good whiskey.

Good cultural diplomacy is always drawn from the unique.  American country music in one area which always projects a wholly American image.  The rugged hero sitting high in the saddle.  Songs of what the French would call la condition humaine strummed along a guitar.

Country music has a wholly global appeal though.  Although it is debatable what category Elvis or Johnny Cash might fit in, we can reasonably fit them in overlapping diagrams that include country music and American figures with global brand status.

I first encountered country music abroad, in the middle of Bohemia of all places.  Later, when working as the Israeli Ambassador to the Republic of Texas, I wanted to do a country music program visit in Israel.  To get a country singer out to Israel, and be seen strumming his guitar in the Dead Sea or visiting the Kotel and Via Dollorosa in a big ten-gallon hat.  Then get him back in Texas and Oklahoma on the country music stations talking about how much he luved his visit to the Holy Land.  A good idea that never made it up the ministry food chain.

More recently, I found those campfire songs in India.  I got a hint from Shantaram, but I encountered it myself with the whiskey lullaby that I kept hearing bouncing around in my office.  Turns out it was the ring tone of an officemate named Suresh. And when we buried him beneath the willow. The angels sang a whiskey lullaby.



The other officemates mentioned over lunch that India loves country music.  My second anecdote came from a Venkat's Clubhouse roommate named Vybo.  One evening on his i-phone he was playing Don Williams over and over again.  He told me how much he loved country to the point that he had proposed to his wife to the Don Williams song, "It Must Be Love."  I started googling him and found sites dedicated to Don Williams in Slovenian and other languages.

American cultural diplomacy has long understood the power of music diplomacy, such as jazz, symphonic  and hip-hop diplomacy.  There has been bits of country music diplomacy already done, such as the concerts by Muslim American Kareema Salama in the Middle East, but there needs to be much more.

There are some tremendous partners to worth with for some bigger country diplomacy.  State could work with Country Music Television among others to help promote some bigger country diplomacy.  I would love to see a reality show on CMT about country singers touring the world and the reaction therein.  even more so, I would love to see it as a bit of American female empowerment and send a honky tonky country woman tourin' about.

As I have noticed in the Shanghai Expo and Taipei Flora Expo, different states like Texas and Montana do bits of state branding; getting some state buy-in could be a great way to get  Red State America to appreciate what cultural diplomacy is really about.

I would send a cultural diplomacy country tour to India and the supremely musical Indonesia and Philippines.  You could get some great cultural exchange opportunities in all three countries.  Heck, the same way I propose sending Taiwanese or Malaysian night markets abroad, I would send the whole rodeo as a bit of cultural diplomacy.  I have personally witnessed how much the Japanese loved frito chili pies and deep-fried oreos in some state fair-like cultural exchange in Japan. But let's not put wagon before the horse....

Simply put, American country music is a brand in itself, and something that communicates uniquely American cultural values and could be a powerful bit of cultural diplomacy.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Vlugvoos

Vlugvoos: Afrikaaner word meaning to have been made spongy or rotten by jet lag.

Welcome Home

After returning from a  long journey, one thing I have long marveled about as I find myself in the US customs line is the diversity I see. Whereas in the customs lines of everywhere else I go, it is usually segregated between separate lines for homogeneous domestic passport holders and varied foreigners in the other line. Yet whenever I return to the US, I marvel that the US passport holder line is so utterly diverse.  As I stood in line, I chatted with a retired baseball player.  A nice fellow, whose name I am blanking on. He told me he was a utility outfielder for the Mariners and Marlins  We chatted about baseball and bball overseas.

But none of this is really the point of my story.  The point of my story comes when I was at the immigration officer's desk.  He took a look at my customs form and my passport, and smiled.  He asked what I had been doing abroad.  I replied that I am a journalist, it is always the easiest answer.

He looked at the countries again, and asked, "Is there a recession in Asia like there is here?"  I sighed, looked at him and replied, "No, it is booming over there."  He then sighed, looked down and then wistfully away.  He looked back at me, and said, "Welcome home."  Welcome home indeed.

The Wind Will Carry Us


Nirvana

And I forget
Just why I taste
Oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile
I found it hard
It was hard to find
Oh well, whatever, nevermind

-Nirvana, Nevermind

Nirvana, of the Seattle rather than Indian variety.  Interesting story on Nirvana, the birth of grunge and how it affected Seattle.  Thanks Abba, never knew you were such a fan....



The long road on the search for fulfillment

One of the fascinating corollarys that has punctuated the stay in Taipei is an ongoing discussion with my roommate Harry. As I mentioned in a previous blog, during my previous stint Harry and I were friends but not especially close. We were just in different places at the time. He put it well when he said, that had I not returned this time, I would have been just another roommate who passed through the apartment. Yet this week, as we are both finding are lives in a bit of flux, we have been having a tremendous conversation about the search for fulfillment and meaning.  As I learned from Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, the search for fulfillment is the search for God.

Over glasses of Taiwanese beer in the living room, over Eggs Florentine and Shakshuka (who knew the Taiwanese knew shakshuka?) in a funky breakfast spot, and in general conversations that have helped offer perspectives for both of our everchanging existences, we have been deconstructing the meaning of fulfillment by examining different spokes.  Harry very pointedly said that my time in Taipei has been much like that of a hyperbaric chamber, allowing me to depressurize from my Indian adventure and my months on the road before I ascend to the next level ever closer to the surface.  Eggs Florentine in the hyperbaric chamber, how fitting.

Harry and I share a similar upbringing and have marveled at how similar Chinese and Jewish parents can be.  Yet we also marveled at our respective dispossession and marginalization, our eternal damnation- if you will, borne out of our stepping out of the friendly confines of "normal life."  

Harry helped introduce me to a show to which I have become addicted, Breaking Bad.  Breaking Bad is a show about a mild-mannered Chemistry teacher who discovers he is terminally ill with lung cancer, and goes about cooking meth to help provide for the future of his family.  It is a dark and rather twisted show that has a side of Coen Brothers in that it deals with the banality of modern life and how it is that we find meaning in the modern world. It is very Greek in nature, focusing on the rise and fall of man.  As Harry aptly said, it is also very medieval in the notion that it is about how the physical quest becomes a spiritual journey.

Central to any journey, be it physical or spiritual, is the notion of proving one's self.  We have discussed various points in our own lives where we tried to prove ourselves, either by starting fresh in a new environment or moving beyond a comfort zone, or traveling alone on the road for months at a time.  For Harry, who grew up in the US, it was moving to Taipei.  For me, it was moving to Houston, or moving abroad.  It made me wonder if the notion of moving to New York was just another attempt at proving myself, and our discussion helped begin to give me the permission to consider living in Washington, something I had never previously done.  In part, this is all a discussion of self-acceptance, and accepting one's imperfections.

As such this Quijote has been on a long quest that has been very much a spiritual journey, and one that has led him back to the place where the journey started, in a much better mind state and equipped with tools for dealing with the present. It helps putting on different tints to allow for different perspectives, and always, listening is key.

It is ironic that my search for fulfillment during this particular adventure came to a head during the Taiwanese Epilogue.  It was over The Razor's Edge in the jade Taroko gorge that I started finding words to describe my present questions, and it was during the Taiwanese Epilogue that I put some of those questions in their proper place.  

PD Layer Cake

"If you're gonna hang around
in this game...

... that's where you've
got to aim to be.

In your bonded warehouse with
the ex-soldiers doing the dirty work...

... while you deliver
the suspect lecture...

... to baffle your opponents
and cover your tracks.

The art of good business
is being a good middleman.

Putting people together. I'll always
thank Eddie for telling me that."

-Layer Cake

To paraphrase Layer Cake: The art of good public diplomacy is being a good middleman.

My home sweet home

"...Stand beside her and guide her."

Time to get back in the game after a long time away.

Venezia

"A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it."
-George Moore

Marco Paulo returns from the Orient to Venice, bearing troves of silk and spices, coffee and tea, pearls and jade. But his cargo holds one thing more precious that won't appear on any merchant's ledger: he returns brimming with ideas.

Friday, April 15, 2011

I'll Fly Away

Some glad morning when this life is o'er,
I'll fly away;
To a home on God's celestial shore,
I'll fly away (I'll fly away).

I'll fly away, Oh Glory
I'll fly away; (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I'll fly away (I'll fly away).

When the shadows of this life have gone,
I'll fly away;
Like a bird from prison bars has flown,
I'll fly away (I'll fly away)
I'll fly away, Oh Glory
I'll fly away; (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I'll fly away (I'll fly away).

Just a few more weary days and then,
I'll fly away;
To a land where joy shall never end,
I'll fly away (I'll fly away)

I'll fly away, Oh Glory
I'll fly away; (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I'll fly away (I'll fly away).

La fin de l'épilogue taïwanais

I spent my last days in Taiwan really making sense of all that had taken place over the last year. It is hard to distill the whole of the adventure into a blog that really conveys the meaning of all that passed. For now, I will just try to distill my Taiwanese epilogue.

There seemed to be a cosmic confluence of events (“Providence”) that was punctuating my stay in Taiwan. Soundbytes and passing references seem to cheapen an experience that was meaningful and fulfilling in ways that my previous Taiwanese chapter wasn’t.

For starters, I had been having an ongoing conversation with my roommate Harry about the search for fulfillment, as we are both in very transitional points in our lives. Tidbits of the rich discussion revolved around the difference between being alone vs. lonely; the permission we require from ourselves; the eternal questions of what we are trying to prove to others and ourselves. I have the crux of our discussion saved for another blog as it was a running conversation that deserves its own space. The short of it is that Harry and I grew quite close over the nine-day period in ways that we weren’t during my previous stint, and really came to treasure his friendship.

I also had an opportunity to see the impact and influence I have had on friends whose lives I have passed through.

Meanwhile, I had a brief but very meaningful thing with my French roommate Aurelie. As my Aunt Jill likes to say: people enter your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime; it was something that seemed to fulfill a real reason during a brief season. I bade goodbye to Aurelie at the bus station with a classic Bogart line: “We’ll always have Taipei.” She just smiled and waved as the bus pulled out and mouthed the bouncy Taiwanese “bye-bye.”

As I sped off into the silent night, past neon Chinese characters filling the skyline and lights from cantilevered bridges reflecting in slow moving rivers, I began to try to make sense of the Taiwanese epilogue. In many ways, the Taiwanese epilogue was everything that my Taiwanese chapter wasn’t. I had wonderful community that made my stint meaningful and fulfilling.

I am pleased to conclude my Taiwan epilogue with a love for Taipei that I hadn’t previously possessed. I had loved Taiwan, and respected Taipei with bits of affection. But my reintroduction to Taipei helped in part that ephemeral quality to the city. In reality though, Taipei hadn’t changed-- I had.

 Interestingly, if I hadn’t returned to Taipei, I’m not sure if I would ever return to Taiwan; yet this stay in Taipei helped show me how much I did indeed love Taiwan, and just need a better perspective to appreciate all it offered.

More importantly, I found some of the remaining piece to my yatra puzzle, of which I will discuss in a later blog.  All that is left to say as I depart Taiwan is that I leave tonight in full peace and contentment with all that taken place over the last year, and look forward to my return. In conclusion, I will offer Robert Frost's eternal poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening as the final words for this adventure:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Remember when....

From my friend John: "Remember when teachers, public employees, Planned Parenthood, NPR and PBS crashed the stock market, wiped out half of our 401Ks, took trillions in bailout money, spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico, gave themselves billions in bonuses, and paid no taxes? Yeah, me neither. Pass it on...."

Flower Power cont

When I was here in Taiwan previously, the Taipei Flora Expo was just starting to open.  I visited on the soft launch preview day, and enjoyed what I saw.  Now, the expo has been open for months and will be closing soon.  I took the day to go check out the festivities.  First off, the place is absolutely packed.  I came on a wednesday and it was still bustling.  I had passed it on a sunday and it was overflowing with people, but it was still chock full today.

I managed to finagle a student ticket and wandered on in.  The flowing flower beds were quite pretty, with vibrant seas of yellows, blues, turquoise  and all other hues.  Immediately, I realized I wasn't going to get into any serious pavilions as the lines were snaking, and I had no aces to use to jump the lines.  I passed an interesting pavilion put on by China, showcasing Shanghai and Xi'an.  Taipei had a pavilion at the the Shanghai Expo, and this was Shanghai's way of reciprocating in the cross-Straits cultural diplomacy.  There was also an exhibit replica of Xi'an's city walls that was interesting.

Unfortunately, the Taipei Flora expo seems to be such a hit among the Taiwanese that the lines were way too long for me to get into any pavilions.  I wandered around the flower walls a bit, then popped over to Radio Taiwan International to be interviewed by my friend Jonathan Seidman, who hosts the show "Soft Power."  In my stints abroad, I have become quite a regular contributor to RTI.  We discussed Taiwanese soft power, and how soft power is like sex appeal.  I noted that while I like that the Taiwanese government has internalized the need to project soft power, constantly proclaiming your soft power is a bit much.  I simply stated that they should continue their public diplomacy of the deed and their cultural projection, and let others appreciated Taiwanese soft power therein.  I also discussed the INDIA Future of Change initiative, and how Taiwan needs a similar type project.  We discussed my Indian gastrodiplomacy article in the HuffPo, and how Taiwan could do veg gastrodiplomacy to India.  Finally, we discussed my E-Mandarin proposal.  After the interview, we popped up to the roof for a sweeping view of Taipei under the shadow of Chang Kai-Shek's ghosts.

I returned to the Flora Expo and wandered through another section that had pavilions from different countries.  There were a lot of different pavilions contributed.  The Canadian Pavilion had a similar shortcoming to the Shanghai Expo- the design was great, along the lines of a tribal design animal, but lacking on any kind of interior.  There was an interesting Thai Pavilion with a giant Thai warrior and elephant made from shrubbery.

The US Pavilion was really quite good, with desert cactus landscape and a very interesting progressive design.  There was an American style fireplace with American books and different hats.  There was a lot of State branding, from Montana and Indiana.  It was well done...but f'ing chill with capitalism overload Uncle Sam.  It was the only pavilion I found that had significant prominent corporate sponsorship.  Literally, it seemed as if the pavilion was trying to sell wood finishes.  It was good, but layoff the hard sell, please.

Otherwise, the Philippines one was really good.  It had a replica of Intremoros, the old city of Manila as well as an old church design.  Also, the Greek Pavilion was quite good, with a Greek temple replica as well as a Greek church design.  The show stealer was, the ROC (Taiwan) Pavilion.  As it should be, but it was still very nicely designed, with a thatched bamboo open dome and a reflective pool with faux pearls.

On the whole, I was pleasantly surprised by the event.  Just as the Shanghai Expo, the audience was ultimately local and the locals loved it.  I wish I could have seen more of the pavilions, as they looked quite interesting but I couldn't be bothered to wait in the long lines.  So it goes.  I am glad to see that the Flora Expo was ultimately a success for Taipei; glad to see a more dynamic American Pavilion (save for the hard sell); glad to see the China-Taiwan Cross Straits exchange that seemed to be present in the pavilions and also Chinese tour groups with their tour flags flying.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Indian Gastrodiplomacy to help feed perceptions of an emergent India


I have a new piece in the Huffington Post on Indian gastrodiplomacy
As an emergent India is asserting itself within the ever-evolving global power dynamic, India is having a vibrant discussion about public diplomacy and nation-branding, and how to engage in channels of public diplomacy as a means to project its emergence; now is perfect the time for India to start cooking up a gastrodiplomacy campaign.

Public diplomacy works to communicate culture and values to foreign publics; gastrodiplomacy uses culinary delights to appeal to global appetites, and thus helps raise a nation’s brand awareness and reputation.
As this author previously noted in this fair site, Thailand was the first to engage in gastrodiplomacy as foreign policy, while South Korea and Taiwan have also been cooking up culinary diplomacy of late.  Meanwhile, Malaysia has been conducting a dynamic Malaysian Kitchen for the World gastrodiplomacy campaign that has combines elements of culinary and cultural diplomacy by showcasing its cuisine and culture in nightmarkets set up in London, New York and Los Angeles. Indian Gastrodiplomacy
India is a natural spot to conduct gastrodiplomacy (“Samosa Diplomacy”), as India’s mark on global cuisine is profound.  It was the quest for India’s spice bounty flavored the European age of exploration and sent intrepid navigators sailing around the Cape of Good Hope to reach India’s shores.  As Shashi Tharoor noted, today in Great Britain—the isle that once-considered India to be her crown jewel, Indian curry houses employ more workers in the UK than the iron, steel, coal and shipbuilding industries combined.

In an age of increasing obesity and heart disease in the West as related to Western diets, as well as diseases outbreaks like BSE, e coli and salmonella that have plagued meat supplies, India’s more healthy vegetarian diet could be a source of soft power for India.  India would be wise to take the advice of Beetles legend and vegetarian enthusiast Paul McCartney, and declare an “International Vegetarian Day.”
Yet so much of what passes for Indian food abroad stems from its northern Punjabi cuisine.  India would be wise to start promoting the delicious and fresh cuisines that are found in its southern regions like the banana-leaf sadya thalis with its delectable coconut chutneys, idlys (lentil cakes) and vadas (donut fritters) or the rice and black lentil crepe dosa stuffed with masala potatoes and onions.

Meanwhile, India would be smart to promote the delicacies that are found at a more local level.  Indian street food never seems to make its way to western palates, which have sadly been missing out on the multitudes of dishes that local Indians savor.  Also, it is a culinary fare that is often a bit more posh and pricy.  The hearty, cheap and delicious street food treats like chole (fiery chickpea curry) with puri (fried bread), aloo tikki (potato croquettes stuffed with spices and served with mint, tamarind and yogurt) and multitude of various savory chaat snacks.

And what is dinner without dessert?  Indian sweets like the immaculate barfi (condensed milk squares), kulfi (sweet, creamy traditional Indian ice cream) and the delectable gulab jamun  (fried dough balls swimming in rosewater syrup) could all be after dinner favorites for an Indian gastrodiplomacy campaign.  Of course, such would go well with a cup of India’s famous spiced tea— the sweet, milky and gingery chai.
In Delhi, the Indian Ministry of Tourism- in collaboration with a variety of other ministries and tourist boards, helps host the popular tourist destination Dilli Haat, a rural market-style center to showcase Indian crafts and cuisine from all across India’s varied 28 states.  Such efforts should be distilled into a traveling cultural diplomacy campaign sent abroad, much like the innovative Malaysian night market initiative, to bring wide-ranging examples of Indian cuisine and culture to wider global audiences. When culinary diplomacy is combined with cultural diplomacy, it is at its most successful as it engages all the senses.

Indian cuisine has always been an informal part of Indian public and cultural diplomacy, what is required today is a more focused use of gastrodiplomacy in its public diplomacy efforts.  As India is conducting public diplomacy and cultural outreach campaigns, like the immaculate India Calling event in Los Angeles or the wildly successful Maximum India festival in Washington, DC, to introduce global audiences to the cultural reality of an emergent India, it is also time for India to engage in more robust gastrodiplomacy to raise the cultural awareness for all of India’s cuisine heritage.

A gastrodiplomacy diplomacy campaign could help raise Indian brand awareness, spur tourism and introduce global dinners to the authentic Indian palate.  A bit of digestive diplomacy is just the dish to help pique global interest and appetites in the new India.

lotto receipts

I just recently found out about a fascinating Taiwanese way of fighting the "black economy."  In order to get businesses to give receipts and therefore have the transactions on the books, the receipt itself is a lottery ticket.  At the top of the receipt, there is an 8 digit code.  There is a monthly drawing for the lotto and people can win based on getting some of the numbers.  There are also bins outside the 7-11s and other convenience stores that collect the receipts and hold them as a means to play the receipt lotto tickets for charity.  I never had realized what the bins were for, other than for trash.  Quite an ingenious way to keep transactions on a legit level.

On Solar

“The use of solar energy has not been opened up because the oil industry does not own the sun. ” - Ralph Nader

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Aleph

Back when I was in Kuala Lumpur, languishing in limbo and wondering if I was going to make it to India or not, there was one morning that I woke up early and walked out of the dorm and into the lounge.  There was no one around as I walked over to make myself a cup of coffee.  As I passed by a table, something on the glass surface caught my eye: it was a single Indian rupee.  The rupee had a design I had never seen before; it had a big thumbs-up on the coin.  I took the rupee and pocketed it in my money belt, sure that I had found an aleph and interpreting this as a sign that I would indeed make it to fair India.  I kept that aleph with me all through my journeys through Malaysia, Thailand and ultimately the Indian enigma, with the talisman tucked safely in the money belt.

Yet when I arrived to Taipei, I reached into the belt to pull it out and show the coin to my friends Jonathan and PeiXin to display what a rupee coin looked like.  It was gone.  The ephemeral aleph had served its purpose and disappeared back into the cosmos from where it came.