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absurd

Reluctant Popstar

A visit to the barber in Turkey: flaming swabs, cut-throat razors and a little too much gel. Turkish Popstars“Please sir, you sit down.” My new best friend motions to something resembling a cabinet covered with a bed-sheet, and impersonating a couch. “Yes, you sit there.” I am in a Turkish laundromat, without a single washing appliance in sight, and a large curtain separating tiny front of shop from what sounds like an entire family washing clothes by hand. It may well be by hand, for Turkish Laundry Man tells me that my weighed and charged by the kilo clothing has a turn around time of thirty-six hours. “My friend, your room number at hotel?” “666” I reply, and not for the first time here in Antalya, Turkey, am wistfully disappointed that no-one gets the joke in this predominantly non-Christian country. On the wall behind the counter is a poster for a concert by Sri Chinmoy. An auspicious sign? Turkish Laundry Man certainly thinks so, pointing to the face on one of my t-shirts and then same face on poster. “You... him... same!” he smiles, genuine enthusiasm undaunted by only rudimentary knowledge of the Queen’s English. I decline tea—served extra black with lemon in this part of the world—ever present foil to actually getting anything done. In Turkey, were you to actually accept every courteous offer of tea, made with every business transaction completed or just proffered, you would be not only over caffeinated but permanently delayed. “Can you recommend a barber?” I inquire as I leave, mirror in corner revealing a haircut past fashionably messy and just messy. “Oh yes,” grins laundry man, “come, my cousin is barber!” Taking me by the hand, a custom which would be extremely uncomfortable back home but absolutely kosher here, he leads me diagonally across the road to a barber shop I somehow hadn't noticed, where a man with an intimidating stare is holding a cut-throat razor, giving a local the closest shave I have ever seen. There is absolutely no family resemblance. They converse briefly in Turkish, Laundry Man enthusiastic, Intimidating Barber seemingly disinterested, and a price is confirmed of TKL8, a fare more than fair. His job not only done but exceeded far beyond call, Laundry Man clasps my hand firmly and then departs, imploring me to join him for tea at haircut's close. Unlike the laundromat, the barber shop is state of the art, if such a description can be applied to the timeless tradition of men's hairdressing. European football plays on the satellite channel of a wall-mounted TV set, watched by the coiffed to be from ergonomic, custom built blue barber chairs. A million types of hair product of infinite textures, fragrances and purport line shelves inside sleek plastic tubes and containers, while beside me Turkish language magazines sit in piles for my non-reading, temporary distraction as I await my appointment with master of male grooming. As with haircuts everywhere, the first order of business is communicating the type of cut desired. Except without use of language, as “short back and sides” produces not a glimmer of understanding. Yet to utter a single word, but thankfully his cut-throat now holstered, Intimidating Barber motions to the top of my head and then the sides with thumb and fore-finger held apart, distance presumably indicating length desired. Resisting the temptation to point to the cover of “Türkiye Man” and say “Same please,” I emulate the gesture, except with a measurement several millimetres less, successfully communicating a clippers cut by narrowing my fingers to just a pinch. Shoved from behind face into a water filled basin, I relax in the knowledge that I am probably going to get a haircut at the very least vaguely approximating what I am used to. After a minute having my hair washed, Intimidating Barber places a towel covered hand tightly over mouth, nose and eyes, pulling me by face up out of the sink, an act intended to keep water off my face, but also temporarily suffocating me. I wonder at what point breathlessness would overcome polite surrender, should I be unable to draw air for much longer. Possibly not until after I pass out. While his perpetual frown is a little off-putting, especially when wielding the cut-throat razor—a not so subtle encouragement for prompt payment I am sure—he does appear to be proficient at his trade, employing facets of this art which I was hitherto unaware. Flaming stick to the side of the head is a personal favourite, steel rod wrapped in cotton wool lit and applied in measured daubs around the ears, burning off fine hairs or evil spirits I am not completely sure. Like me he is not a fan of the “side-burn”—also known as the “mutton-chop” or just plain personal grooming mistake—and, in another excuse to wave cut-throat alarmingly close to vital arteries, skillfully dispatches any hint of such with a few swift strokes. A confirmation of desired shortness—“no, this short” I signal with my fingers—and we are just about done, a few final adjustments required with comb and scissors. Did I say done? Maestro appears to have other ideas, and, inspired by a fist-full of styling gel and a look last seen in best forgotten 1980s music videos, twists and then teases my hair into points and spikes, bottle of jelly-like product fast disappearing. I have to desperately restrain myself from laughing at what is taking shape in the mirror, for he regards his craftsmanship most seriously, and expects an approval I would fear not giving. Barbershop experience is completed with a TKL10 note exchanged, price raised above that quoted but I mind not—the sickly sweet all over perfume applied at close more than justifying this age-old version of “bait and switch.” For the next ten minutes I am a reluctant Turkish pop star, now rock hard gelled haircut attracting nods of approval from schoolboys passed as I return to my hotel. Cringing, I take the out of sight back entrance up to my room, detachment from care for my personal appearance growing about as fast as recently cut hair.

Beijing says “Too much tricky” to Chinglish

New stadiums, airports and trains—Beijing is fabricating Great Wall sized for this year’s Olympic games—but one part of the construction is several bricks short of full height: the signage. The hundreds of thousands of visitors—half a million expected in the Chinese capital officially—will find little relief in language from the countless signs erected on their behalf—other than the humourous kind that is—for the accuracy of many translations is firmly in last place; a gold medal likely for unintentional mirth. Giving rise to more than a sense of humour, the Beijing Municipal Tourism Board has thrown up its arms about many of the city’s bilingual notices, hiring English experts to eradicate the funny side, restore a stiff upper lip to countless “Chinglish” signs, restaurants and shop fronts. Feeling hungry during a frolic in the Forbidden City? “Burnt lion’s head” will no longer be an acceptable part of the menu. Yes, it is outrageously funny, and even in parts of Western Europe entirely accurate, but “Welcome big nose friends” will no longer allowed on the front of eating establishments. Likewise “Reception Centre for the Unorganised Tourist”—albeit probably true for most visitors, Germans aside. Want to go for a walk in Beijing’s ‘Park of Ethnic Minorities?’ Still a pleasant stroll in the inner city, but no longer a walk on the wild side, for in mistranslated, misunderstood “Racist Park,” you take your care and care for your wallet when the roads are wet: “the slippery are very crafty.” Doug Lansky, travel writer and author of Last Trout in Venice, laments the loss of the linguistically lacking from China, for in his opinion, signs on lawns pleading “don’t walk on me” reveal much about the Chinese way of seeing the world—perhaps a Jain-like sensitivity to the feelings of too-often trodden turf? Lanksy opines:
“On one hand I can understand why they are doing it - they don't want people making fun of their language skills or culture, but on the other hand, it's a real shame. The travelling experience should be a little bit quirky, and throw people off balance a bit.”

Too much tricky in there!

The last word on loose and fast words goes to a “Sylvia”—not her Chinese name—a co-worker of this author who recently described the business of doing business in China in perfectly plain Chinglish:
“Sorry about inconvenient. Remember this is in China. Too much tricky in there! My goodness!”
Credits Story misappropriated but not mistranslated from The Telegraph.

On a Roll

He’s been in the New York Times, the L.A. Times, the BBC and The Guardian, the pop star your Mum used to like now an internet phenomenon in the papers your Mum likes to read. Rick AstleyRick Astley, baby-faced British two-hit wonder from 1988 still baby-faced and viewed 15,000,000 times on YouTube—somebody’s got to be “taking the Rick” for sure? The phenomenon is called “Rickrolling,” and if you just clicked that link you’ve been “rolled” as well.

Definition of Rickrolling

To quote the Urban Dictionary, ’rolling is:
To post a misleading link with a subject that promises to be exciting or interesting, e.g. “World of Starcraft in-game footage!”  [...] but actually turns out to be the video for Rick Astley's debut single, “Never Gonna Give You Up.” A variant on the duckroll. Allegedly hilarious.

Rick Astley on Rickrolling

But what does Rick have to say about it all? You wouldn’t get this from any other guy...
For his part, Astley was nothing if not modest about his new cultural role. “If this had happened around some kind of rock song, with a lyric that really meant something -- a Bruce Springsteen, "God bless America" ... or an anti-something kind of song, I could kind of understand that,” Astley said. “But for something as, and I don’t mean to belittle it, because I still think it’s a great pop song, but it’s a pop song; do you know what I mean? It doesn’t have any kind of weight behind it, as such. But maybe that’s the irony of it.” Astley would never put the song down, mind you. It’s just that, as he says, “If I was a young kid now looking at that song, I’d have to say I’d think it was pretty naff, really.” (Wikipedia on “naff”: British slang for “something which is seen to be particularly ‘cheesy’ or ‘tacky’ or in otherwise poor aesthetic taste.”) “For me it’s a good example of what some of the ’80s were about in that pop sort of music way. A bit like you could say Debbie Gibson was absolutely massive, but if you look back at it now ... do you know what I mean?” Yes, I think we do. But even still, with all the renewed attention to his work and his — albeit 20-year-old — image, does Astley have any plans to cash in on Rickrolling, maybe with his own YouTube remix? “I don’t really know whether I want to be doing that,” he said. “ I’m not being an ageist, but it’s almost a young person’s thing, that.” “I think the artist themselves trying to remix it is almost a bit sad,” he said. “No, I’m too old for that.” Astley, who will be touring the U.K. in May with a group of other ’80’s acts, including Bananarama, and Nick Heyward, Heaven 17, Paul Young and ABC, sums up his thoughts on his unexpected virtual fame with characteristic good humor: “Listen, I just think it’s bizarre and funny. My main consideration is that my daughter doesn’t get embarrassed about it.” —David Sarno, L.A. Times

Dog on Zen

Naha, Japan: Conan, a male chihuahua, mimics Buddhist priest Joei Yoshikuni at Jigenin temple Meet Conan, a male chihuahua from Naha, Japan, who’s renounced more traditional doggy pursuits for Dogen—a formative style of Zen from the 13th century that equates meditation and enlightenment as one and the same—chasing after the ever-spinning shiny wheel of rebirth before he’s even taken human birth. Buddhist priest Joei Yoshikuni (pictured) of the Jigenin temple didn’t comment as to whether his own meditation practice had gone to the dogs...
Photograph: Toru Yamanaka/AFP

Rollercoaster monks

Rollercoaster monks It seems meditation isn’t the only way to get up into the air, although one can’t rule out that these Buddhist monks aren’t actually—heavily disguised as fun park patrons—practicing their asanas:
“The postures that a Buddhist deity assumes in a sculpture or painting are known as asanas.” —Mudras in Buddhism, Rev. Jnana, Zen Dharma Teacher
Whatever the intent there seems little doubt they are having a jolly good time. Super-sized fun even, albeit probably not hair-raising...

Experience Mocha

A surreal visit to a Chinese coffee shop, made less believable by a brochure gained... Experience Mocha“Experience Mocha!” it commands, and obeisance is mine, weak-willed and supine in the face of advertorial imperative, a surrendered slave to caffeine’s seductive call, writ large as headline on front-of-counter brochure. So experience I do, like there was ever a possibility that I would not, tourist hardly accidental in a franchised coffee shop, Qingdao, China, where an extra-large mocha is served with time and care disproportionate to the value purchased, by staff in Santa hats, seasonal cheer worn yet fitting not here in the decidedly secular People’s Republic. I have lost my will and gained much blood sugar, but have a semblance of increasingly agitated wits still; my attention hyperactive turns in circles to the written instigator of my downfall—counter-side brochure with hypnotic headline I am still chanting inside: “Experience Mocha... experience mocha...” * * * Statue or me?Written in English but thought in Chinese, the brochure is so absurd as to, koan-like, transcend absurdity and become good again, almost as though you had dug a hole so deep it was no longer a hole, but rather a tunnel to... China. Although unintentionally good, because to write like this on purpose—with irony and innocent sincerity mixed frothier than steamed milk—really would be an act of genius, and genius is difficult to ascertain when it's lustre may just as well be malapropism from the original Chinese. Whether intentional or otherwise, to me at least the brochure had an innocent sincerity, a quality now rare here in the West. Can you even imagine a major franchise, or pretty much anything or anyone else for that matter, writing a first person account of a man surreptitiously eavesdropping on a coffee shop conversation that wouldn't contain a hint of innuendo or allusion? To me this is more refreshing than even a “cup of sweet melancholy and expectations.” Like the brochure said: No full-stop in SPR coffee...

Experience Mocha

Like most people to and from work everyday. I want neither to stay in the office nor go home at times Then I always walk over to a coffee house named SPR, pretending I'm a drifting cloud. The coffee house sits at the crossroad. The bar area is just in front of the left-side wall. Tables and chairs are arranged along the windows facing the street. It can only accommodate 30 guests. It is not big yet elegantly furnished. The nostalgic tiles, western styled wail paintings, glass windows and curtains with U shaped small brown flower patterns contribute to its elegance. After coffee snack, it is quiet again and I always come at this time. Then, the barista, perhaps a young couple, would readjust the jazz music to much lower volume. I would order a cup of Mocha, take out my paper and start writing a short essay. I'm about to pick up my pen when my attention is distracted by the talk of the two girls. Fashionable, modern and young, they look like college students. They talk in a low voice, but I can still hear them and I can sense the anxiety, loneliness and expectations behind their laughter and talk the sweet melancholy of the young. On a winter afternoon, a man snatching a little leisure is sipping the cup of sweet melancholy and expectations... Mocha.....Mocha.....Mocha.....Mocha.....

Coffee drenched links

  • engrish.com: Engrish can be simply defined as the humorous English mistakes that appear in Japanese advertising and product design." It can be found in other places also (like China), but engrish.com insist that the Japanese variety is usually superior
  • Hanzi Smatter: dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters in western culture
  • SPR Coffee: Experience mocha at the source

Conan O’Brien vs Stephen Colbert vs Jon Stewart

[kml_flashembed movie="http://widgets.nbc.com/o/4727a250e66f9723/47a81ada79dd6ba1" width="384" height="316" wmode="transparent I normally try to be inspiring on this site. I write about topics like ‘meditation,’ ‘meditation and me,’ and sometimes ‘meditation and the rest of the world.’ I guess I like meditation—I've been doing it for near fifteen years now—and I assume that it likes me. But as a chap named Monty Python once said, now for something completely different. Perhaps the following video clip is not implicitly inspiring. But it is explicitly funny. Though neither sophisticated nor sarcastic, I was laughing out loud as late night American television hosts Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Conan O’Brien staged a mock fight on the set of Late Night with Conan O’Brien last night—baseball bats, bricks, ice skates and a tumble down the stairs—and there was even a surprise appearance from Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee at the end of the blows. A little juvenile maybe. Slap-stick humour definitely, the way only Americans know how and do absolutely the best. What is really great about this clip, the in-joke that informs, underlines everything you see, is that these are three very famous people, working in exactly the same field, competing directly for television ratings and advertising dollars, who should supposedly have very large egos, making fun of all of that, and revealing—wait... is that irony, on American TV?—that they are probably very good friends, having a very good time. Yes, it isn’t meditation, my usual, “inspiring” topic, but then what is meditation, when practised correctly, but pure joy? Which is in my opinion is exactly what pure humour is as well. I find that pretty inspiring.

Sri Chinmoy on humour

Humour comes directly from God. Why? He needs humour. It is the salt of life. Fortunately or unfortunately, consciously or unconsciously, God has done something. He has created this world and every second He is getting a headache, a stomach-ache and a heart attack. Now, He feels that there should be some way to get rid of His fever and pain. When we suffer from anything we need medicine. In God's case there is only one medicine and that is humour. It cures the disease that He takes from the world. From God the Supreme Humourist Pt.2