Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Olympics are truly upon us.

How does one begin to describe the atmosphere around the Olympics opening ceremony last night? Since I am not much of a wordsmith I will settle for awesome. Though I was not at the Bird's Nest I can say with confidence that I will be very lucky to be part of something as exciting again in my life.

Like I said, I wasn't fortunate enough to be at the main event though some chap had offered me a ticket at an extortionist price I had fun prowling around and witnessing all the excitement. I hooked up with a fellow Kampalan and we watched the opening ceremony in various bars on TV and huge screens in my hood.

The most fun we had was sitting on a pavement in Di'anmen watching the event on a massive screen on a building across the street with our yanjing beer in the company of grannies, mummies, daddies and kiddies. People brought their folding chairs from home and settled down to be part of the event.

Me and my sidekick cheered and clapped when our kanzu and gomesi clad Ugandan team (all 12 of them came on the screen) and the guys around didn't disappoint by giving us vocal backup though I am sure few knew where Uganda was.

Some other craziness that ensued was when the Kobe Bryant's face came on. These NBA crazy guys let out a round of cheers that was only matched when another NBA star, and son of the soil, Yao Ming led the Chinese team into the stadium. From there on it was all Zhongguo, Zhongguo (which is China, China, in Mandarin).

The only fly in the otherwise fine ointment was that we were not allowed into an area called Houhai to watch the fireworks display (one of very many all over the city) up close by the authorities. But we managd to watch from a distance anyway.

One plus was that the public transport operated the whole night, which allowed an inebriated pair of Kampalans to extend the festive evening to Sanlitun across town without having to fork out for a cab.

Its a pity that I couldn't get my hand on tickets to any of the games venues but seeing as they are on every screen everywhere, I will follow well enough. I had a tentative offer for tickets to some baseball match, which I previously ignored because I know nothing about the game but now I am desparately searching for the guy who offered because I have to attend at least one olympic event.

I still can't believe I am here in the midst of all this due to a series of serendipitous decisions. This time last year if you had told me I would be in Beijing during the Olympics I would have told you to get yourself a new dealer because the current one was giving you some madness inducing narcotics.

Adios for now lets see how the next few weeks play themselves out.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Good, The Bad and The neither here nor there

Having been in this city for two months I am beginning to feel like I am part of the place and there are things that I really like about it. I obviously do sometimes feel a tard frustrated about how some things are around here but generally its OK. In any case most of the frustrations are a result of not being able to speak Mandarin, but that is my problem. Here are just a few musings in no particular like or dislike ranking.

Getting around
It wasn't until I came to Beijing that I realised just how much I used to spend on transportation (the public sort). Beijing has a very efficient bus system that can take you virtually anywhere in the city, if you are familiar with the bus lines and connections. This is hardly suprising that Beijing Public Transport Holdings runs over 25,000 buses. And its cheap too. 1 yuan (240 UGX) is enough for most bus journey's within the city regardless of the distance covered.

The subway is pretty good way to get around quickly too. For 2 Yuan (480 UGX) you can move anywhere and change lines as many times as possible. Though the subway doesn't cover all the city the current 4 lines ensure a quicker way to dash around.

I do not even need cash to move about as long as I have my trusty swipe card (above), which I preload and just swipe away as I get on the bus or into the subway station.

I even have a bicycle that I ride around and I know some of you must be thinking I am suicidal because you have Kampala streets in mind. Because China has a bicycle tradition, all major roads have bicycle only lanes which means that while the guys in the cars are cursing in the heavy traffic jams, I am not bothered because I know they will not try to get into my free flowing bicycle lane.

Out and about on the town
I cannot honestly say I have experienced much of what one would call a typical Beijinger's social life. Thats largely due to the fact that I haven't made that many local friends yet with whom I can hang out. But the foreigners I have met many of and the bars, and other such places I go to are usually expatriate/foreign student type places but they are fun.

There is an area called Sanlitun which I will call a clubbing ghetto, not because its sleazy and dirty but because it has twisted, narrow corridor like lanes that have so many clubs and bars. It is the place to go to on weekends for a blast. There is Salsa Caribe for latin flavours, Heat next door for good old hiphop and there is a bar across the street that sells cheap beer and plays mixed music but I cannot seem to remember the name (must have something to do with the oddly named cocktails).

There is the Uganda Crane Coffee shop which is an Ok place to chill out and talk to other Ugandans, the place becomes more of a bar than a coffee shop as the weekend nights progress. Or PiriPiri, fort to meet a generally East African crowd. There are other places too like the White Rabbit (too much techno) and Club Obiwan, which I like because it has restaurant and bar separate from the dancehall where I can drink beer and surf the net on their free WiFi 'til pretty late. The owners are always coming up with all kinds of interesting theme nights and they fight for worthy causes (check flyer)

Talking of beer. That is one thing I am liking about this place. It is so cheap (by k'la standards anyway). My favourite, Yangjing beer is ubiquitous and unpretentious and at 2.5-3 Yuan (600-720 UGX) per 600ml bottle a brother can hardly complain. There is the more expensive (classier) Tsingtao at around 1200 UGX for the same size bottle which is also quite smooth. I once made a beeline for some stout across the supermarket thinking it was canned guiness. But alas, it was only trying too hard to look like it(like so many other goods here). It was OK though, just not guiness good.

I am trying to get into the whole dining out, going to the cinema and going to the numerous parks around but this is just not in my nature so clubbing it will be for now.

More likes and not quite likes later.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sights and sounds

Just thought I would post a few photos of Beijing today while I get back into the posting mode.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Regards from Beijing

After months of wondering about and doing all sorts of things I find myself in Beijing, China, a city I am going to call home for the next few months. If one had told me five months ago that i would be living in Beijing by the end of the year I would have thought him insane, but I guess the world works in such ways.

I have been here just over a week and I am still trying to soak it all in. Coming from a city like Kampala like I do Beijing can be pretty overwhelming. This is a very very huge city of 17 million people. I didn't quite understand what a concrete jungle was until I came here. Its office blocks upon office blocks, apartment towers upon apartment towers for miles on end. Then you get a break from all the skyscrapers and you enjoy whatever passes for scenery around here but before long you will get to another beijing district and its concrete jungle time again. And of course everything is about the Olympics. From billlboards to phone ads to almost every packaged product the Olympics rule. More on that in a separate post.

One thing I like about this city is that it is pretty clean and very well organised. It has finely paved roads clearly marked areas for cars, buses, cyclists and pedestrians. I have never seen so many cyclists in one town (maybe with the exception of Lira). When I was told before I left that it would be nice for me to get a bicycle once I got here, I thought that they were crazy because In my mind I was thinking of a traffic situation like the one in Kampala and I was thinking, no way! but now I see that riding here is a lot more safer than in Kampala and it is quite convinient.

The one thing that bothers me a bit is the way everybody keeps looking at me. They are hardly any black people in Beijing. I was here for two days before I met any black person. The other day I ventured onto the subway and all over the station and on the train everybody kept focussing their eyes on me. The good thing is that staring is all they do which I have no problem with. I can't wait for the Olympics when all the African and Caribean athletes get here to add some chocolate to all this cream.

I will be posting a more detailed post on my first few days in Beijing later. I do have many pictures but being a dumb ass forgot the camera cable back home so they snaps will have to wait

Monday, March 03, 2008

Long time no post

Its almost a year since I last had anything up here. I guess I have been too distracted.

I will be changing locales soon and thus the rambling thoughts will be coming from elsewhere but Kampala.

Now I am back I hope too reaquaint my self with all of you.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Its been a while since I was last here but thats mainly because I have hardly been settled in one place long enough. That is why I'd like to share some pictures of my travels over the last few months. Enjoy.

A street in Rukungiri Town

Bored Kids outside a church in Nyakajeme, Rukungiri after the service has gone on too long

Ntungamo town's "skyline"

Car trouble in the middle of nowhere on the Fort Portal-Kampala highway at 1am

A view of the Tororo rock as you enter Tororo town from Mbale

The samerock viewed from downtown Tororo

Going up the Elgon mountain ranges. Tried to capture the waterfall but I guess I was too far.
Carrot farmer showing his produce up in the mountain ranges of Wanale sub-county, Mbale.
He'djust nicked some carrots from the chap in previous pic.
Must dash. Next time i'll put up some more pics from Soroti, Kumi, Apac and Masindi.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

From the boondocks to very sunny Kampala

I don't know if its because I have been moving about in the cooler climes of Bushenyi, Ntungamo, Mbarara and Rukungiri that I feel this city has turned into a 24/7 steam bath or if thats how its been all along. I can't cover myself at night and that means I am having issues with those ear loving insects (having always considered myself to cool to sleep under a mosquito net.

The travelling around has been a good break and I feel somewhat rejuvenated. Got some business done and checked on sme people I share DNA with, who I would have not seen for another decade or so.

Something struck me about many of the places I visited. There seems to be some serious progress in general but a lot more in things entertainment related all over the place. There are satelite dishes at every trading centre and the premiership is serious business everywhere. Two builders at my great-aunt's place in Ruk town (I didnt make that up, some guys actually refer to Rukungiri that way) where having a very heated and informed argument about whether Chelsea had any chance of retaining the premiereship trophy. If any of you had seen these guys you would understand why I was surprised.

There are places where one can actually hangout and have a pleasant time out there. There are some nice night spots in these towns. Had I called Ntungamo a one-horse-town the last time I passed through, I would have been insulting one-horse-towns the world over. The town went and got itself a horse and its now a place I wouldn't mind spending a night in. I did have drinks with some of the towns well heeled people at a bar that puts my usual watering whole to shame and I quite liked the experience.

I guess thats why these places haven't been spared that bloody scourge that is driving me stark raving bonkers, CALYPSO. There is no escaping the damn dance. Twice, at a wedding in Bushenyi and at another kikeesa in remote Rukungiri, I noticed the calypso is the only dance anybody seems to know. Whether the song be Omwana Wa Bandi or Ridin' Derty everybody moves about like they just broke their backs or something.

Being out there gets one to put many things in perspective. Nobody seems to give out formal invitations to some social functions. Somehow those who have to attend will be present and those that were not formally invited will not be bounced. I guess because the food is cheap and they cook it in amounts that are quit mindboggling (at least to me) they know everybody will be fed. The phrase "the more the merrier" is taken quite seriously in those parts.

Now that I am having my brains fried in K'la I am beginning to miss the "boondocks", their cool climate and laid back air.