Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The UC Davis of South Asia

Special Guest Blogger: Hubby

Well, I’m being forced to guest blog. Not a bad thing, really, though I’m not sure I’ll bring the same wit to this page. Let’s see what I can conjure up …

So I spent five days in Pakistan this past week. I wasn’t there on earthquake relief. In fact, I might have been the only person at my hotel that wasn’t involved with the relief effort. As an aside, I do encourage everyone to contribute to those efforts – it’s a real tough situation right now for such a wonderful, if often misunderstood, place.

There aren’t that many signs of the quake in Islamabad, other than the tower that collapsed and all of the relief workers there. Oh, and the really big ol’ crack in the wall of my hotel room. Yikes.

Pakistan definitely gets a bum rap in the press. Now, granted, I saw two places (Islamabad and Lahore) and was there for only a few days, but what I saw I really liked. Islamabad is extremely nice. And when I say nice, I sincerely mean that it is a really pleasant place. Islamabad is a planned capital (think Canberra if you’ve ever been to Australia, in terms of the layout of the government buildings) and the diplomatic/government areas (and surrounding suburbs) could be right out of the Central Valley of Northern California, assuming of course you took away the signs in Urdu and the dudes in long robes walking around. The biggest contrast to Delhi is how ordered it is. Traffic generally stays in its lane (!!), roads are large and spacious, parking lots organized and paved, no livestock on the roads, etc. etc. It’s almost like a university campus, like UC Davis or UC Riverside, and is simply more livable than Delhi. Even Rawalpindi, the twin city adjacent to Islamabad that is much less modern, is still better organized and cleaner than comparable parts of Delhi.

Now, I’m not sure how much there is to do for nightlife compared to Delhi, but that aside I liked it. A lot.

Lahore is bigger and crazier and there are definitely elements of Delhi there. The three-wheelers (go back to the traffic blog and see the pictures) are even dumpier than those in Delhi and appear as though they could fall apart at any minute. But the nice parts of Lahore look like Modesto – trees, order, malls … you really could be in California. And the traffic police there do NOT mess around. I was at a stoplight in a taxi and some guy on a motorcycle was weaving in and out of traffic to get to the front of the line. Well, the traffic cop had a word with him and seemed to tell him to queue up with the rest of the motorcycles in the left lane. But, I guess there was some polite disagreement to which the cop pulled him aside and proceeded to give him a ticket. Messing with police in Pakistan: bad idea

The people are quite friendly as well, extremely hospitable and generous with their time. I can’t really explain it, but I just get a different vibe there than I do here. That’s probably something to delve into for another time once we’ve been here longer.

Words of wisdom: if you take Pakistan International Airlines and are over 6 feet tall, ASK FOR A SEAT WITH LEGROOM. For whatever reason, the seats do not have the same amount of space between them. In the four flights I was on (2 there, 2 back), I sat in rows 25 (first row of economy – they start the rows at 21 in business. Why that is, I don’t know), 26, 27, and 41 (41 coming after 27… why that is, again beats me). Row 41 is an exit row… a good thing. Likewise, row 25 is the first row of economy and a bulkhead row. Rows 26 and 27 in theory should be standard economy rows. But they aren’t – row 26 is reasonable and like most economy seats, but in row 27, my knees were actually touching the tray in front of me. Not cool.

Other benefits of Pakistan: better cable (Sky News, Fox News), the availability of beef (!!), even cheaper than India…

Weird things: getting beer at the hotel. Pakistan is a Muslim country so naturally there are sensitivities there. I’m down with that. Now, you can get beer at the hotel I stayed at, but you had to dial a special number and order from a list that they had in the hotel room. On Saturday, I decided to give it a try. I thought it would be some really seedy speakeasy type ordeal, but basically, you call and they come in 5 minutes to bring your beer. Only before you get your beer, you have to fill out a 15-line form (!!) that asks for your personal information, father’s name (??), religion, etc. It was somewhat anticlimactic but had to be experienced. And the beer, brewed in Pakistan (!!), wasn’t half bad.

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