Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Random Observations of Lhasa

Golden ice.
While the freezing temperatures ensure that every man and his Tibetan mastiff pissing against random brick walls less offensive than, say, in a stifling New Delhi summer, it certainly plays havoc with a freezing Donkey trying to negotiate the already treacherous cobbles of Lhasa’s sidewalks in the early morning darkness; the golden, icy slicks sending him sprawling unceremoniously onto the filthy stones every couple of metres, much to the delight of the similarly rugged-up, although considerably more nimble youngens making their way to school.

Did somebody say dark?
As if it wasn’t bad enough that Tibet operates on a Beijing time zone despite being at least two hours ahead (in real time) of the distant seat of power, the Party Regime has seen it fit to dictate that all of Lhasa’s street lights be switched-off at precisely 7.55am, which happens to be approximately one hour and thirty minutes before dawn.

Under cover of darkness.
The opportunistic urbanites of Lhasa use this veiled, pre-dawn window to their advantage, thumbing their noses at Central Government directives to make Lhasa “a model National city” through forced clean-up campaigns, by disposing of their nightly waste water directly over the footpath.  While such practices might be great for keeping the street dust at bay in summer, in winter the frozen slicks encrusted with toothpaste, noodles, slimy vegetables and worse (given what goes on behind the greasy curtain hanging in the back of most of these shops), in addition to posing a potential public health risk, again make negotiating perambulation rather difficult.

Speaking of sex…
Adorning the many shops in Lhasa which sell ladies’ “intimate apparel” are larger-than-life hoardings of Western lingerie models sporting skimpy designer bras and panties in a range of fashionable hues.  You don’t have to get up too close to notice (although one has been known to do so) that despite the advertising, inside these stores you won’t find anything smaller than ankle to neck, cover-all undergarments in a range of fashionable beige; an inventory more likely to appease a grim Victorian school ma’am than a sultry seductress with come hither eyes.

And while you’re licking your chops over that one…
…you may like to join the thousands of Buddhist pilgrims who flock to Lhasa from the remote countryside in their crazy, fluffy headdresses, braided locks and bejewelled faces each winter to worship and prostrate themselves before Tibetan Buddhism’s foremost holy temples, monasteries and shrines, and while they are here, to visit the roadside dental stalls which specialise in gold caps and whiter-than-white pearlies (ridiculously white, really … I guess a mouthful of Clorox will do that for ya).  I can assure you it is quite a shock to be wandering along with the crowd and a sideways glance towards an open doorway revealing a short man in a grubby, blood-spattered (formerly) white lab-coat, cigarette hanging out the side of his mouth, holding aloft an enormous horse-needle poised for insertion into an old woman’s gums while her family strain to clamp her arms to the chair.

Almost as shocking as what you’ll find in the adjacent store, separated from the “dentist” by nothing but fly-blown air; the meat locker, filled to the ceiling with half-frozen, butchered yak carcasses.  Don’t believe me?  Well have a shifty at this.

The Lhasa Meat Locker.  Pic: Hagas

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Zit Face: a heart-warming Christmas message

Call me an old, romantic idealist (oh, go-on), but what I love most about Christmas are not the massive haul of presents sitting beneath plastic pine trees, nor the mountains of land-fill generated by Chinese-made plastic crap, nor the crowded press of zombies wandering around shopping mauls (sic) at 2am just because they’re open 24 hours, but rather, what I love most about Christmas are the tales of love and hope; the celebration of solidarity, and the message that our loved ones, including ourselves, are the most important commodity in the world.

So I thought I’d dedicate this, pre-Christmas post to the message that no matter how down-trodden you may feel, or how abhorrent you think you are, there’s always someone who feels worse, or is more repugnant than you.

Over the years, I have gone to great lengths to make sure that this Blog maintains my anonymity, without outwardly telling any untruths (although that may be one of the few just there).  But I am about to reveal something about myself which could well oust me from my quiet, little, internet hidey-hole.

I suffer from disgusting, horrible, disfiguring acne.  It all started way too early, when I was 9 – just my luck getting acne at age 9, but my balls refusing to drop until I was 25! – and by the time I was 13, my doctor was scribbling down in his notes phrases like “visible lakes of pus” and “deep sinus fissures tracking to Norway”.

The awful thing about teenage acne, despite it leaving you looking like something which, in biblical times, would have seen you ejected over the city walls, is that the extent to which anyone really knows what to do about it is inversely proportional to the number of unsolicited opinions that are offered as to what to do about it.

The obvious approach one might have considered when, as a 13-year-old, one awoke to a pillow soaked in blood and pus for two-weeks running, would have been to consult a dermatologist.  However, due to the fact that every teenage kid in my school who had ever visited one of these witch doctors, while certainly having their acne cleared-up within a matter of weeks, was usually left with a face resembling The Somme in 1917, and thanks to the powerful drug regime they’d been subjected to, a bonus shoulder hump and a combination of breasts, falsetto and/or hairless groin (in boys), or no breasts, baritone and/or hairy arse (in girls).  So the dermatologist was never seriously considered as an option for me (I’ve never needed any help acquiring hair on my arse, thank you very much!).

What was considered, and adhered to for most of my teenage years, thanks to my parents placing stock in increasingly whacked-out opinions as to the cause of my acne, was a gruelling regime of either denying or increasing my intake of various food groups and “natural remedies”.

For example, thanks to one of my father’s old cricket chums, I was urgently taken off dairy food for what would have been the best ice-cream-eating three years of my life.  During this horrible period, a new brand of Belgian Chocolate ice-cream came and went, but not for Donkey.  Instead, the only treat going around for this crater-faced barnyard beast was jaffa-flavoured soy milk (what is it about the latent heat properties of soy milk that no matter how many days you leave it in the fridge, it still comes out warm?!).

Needless to say, the “dairy-free” didn’t stop the pus pouring from my facial pores.  Next, one of my mother’s mid-week golfing “colleagues” heard from a “well-respected naturopath” that seaweed was the go.  For about three months, I was forced to chew on semi-dried, stinking kelp every morning for breakfast.  My pimples maintained their proud stance on my schnoz and chin, for which I must admit I was vaguely relieved, as I was certainly reaching the limit of how much kelp I could stomach.

And on it went.  Obviously chocolate was considered and denied me fairly early on in the process L, and even though the acne remained, chocolate was not returned to my needy bosom for many years thereafter.  Raspberry jam was out.  Honey was withdrawn for a while.  Potato chips (surprise! surprise!), Coca-Cola … ok, to be fair, my diet wasn’t all that great, but which teenage kid’s is?

Then there were the topical remedies that were applied to the skin daily, twice daily or even hourly, depending on which women’s magazine such-and-such was reading; thistle milk, Vitamin E cream, lukewarm rhinoceros semen, tomato paste … the thing was that all of these “cures”, according to the “experts” down at Centenary Park Tennis Club, were not to be rubbed-in until no longer visible, but lathered thickly onto the face and left for the duration of the “prescribed” regime. 

Fortunately this line of treatment came to an abrupt end after a work colleague of my father returned from Rotorua in New Zealand and suggested I try using this thick, black, sulphuric tar he’d acquired which, he assured my Dad, was a sure-fire remedy against skin ailments.  So reluctant as always, and smothered in thick, black paste, I made the trek to school one day and was immediately dragged to the principal’s office and given a week’s suspension on a charge of racial vilification (no doubt the matter wasn’t helped when, in a snivelling mess, I shook my hands in the air and asked to speak with my “Mammy … oh I want my Mammy” – visual gag there; you might need to work on it).

All this ridiculous hokus pokus, disguised as treatment and remedy, despite going on for years, never did anything for my acne, and really only succeeded in making me miserable.  The real cause of my acne, or at least one of them, was eventually discovered, like so many breakthroughs in science, by accident. 

One summer, while mucking around on my skateboard (skaters being the only social group who didn’t seem to care much what you looked like), I slammed pretty badly off a small flight of stairs and broke my arm in about 723 places.  Apart from the pain I endured, not to mention being ridiculed daily by my peers for having to get my mother to wipe my 16-year-old arse (and for the record, it’s not true, people!  A person can adapt to left-hand wiping!), I was also unable to get into a swimming pool, which had, for years, been my only competitive sporting outlet.  Within a week of no swimming; with no dodgily chlorinated water infested with infant-piss and used band-aids, I was cured!  No more zits!

Years later, I came to learn that times of stress were also a trigger for an outbreak of fresh facial pustules.  When I mentioned this to my mother, she scoffed, “Oh yeah, sure, stress.  Exactly what does a teenage boy know about stress?”.

Hmm, I dunno, Mum, maybe it is living with two chain-smoking, staunch Catholics who consider masturbation a mortal sin, and who denied me all of life’s culinary pleasures in favour of a daily intake of seaweed and public humiliation?

These days I try to manage my stress in various ways, and this seems to help my skin a little.  But unfortunately for someone whose career involves a lot of international travel, one of the major triggers of stress which is guaranteed to send my face into volcanic eruptions and release a massive miasma of rank body odour (I’ll post about that another time) is international air travel.

Today was a lovely day in Melbourne, and I took the rare opportunity of a late afternoon flight to go for a morning swim down at the local pool.  I was feeling great when I got the airport, and was wearing appropriate clothes for managing my body temperature.  But after all the check-in procedures, and immigration, and finding the departure gate, I nicked into Sunglass Hut to see what they had going on, and while trying on a new pair of sunnies, I glanced in the mirror and noticed what the cocktail of chlorine and internal body oils had done to my face.

Feeling too embarrassed to hand the glasses back to the smokin’ hot sales girl (although she saved me the problem as she’d noticed my face on the way in and was definitely putting some distance between us), I dumped them on the counter and bolted for the loo.

As I stood up close to the basin, ejecting great globules of yellow and red fluid all over the mirror, my self esteem had hit an all-time low.  Although I was scared witless that some poor schmuck would walk in any minute, see what I was doing and lose their lunch, there was nothing for it; I had to purge my face of this vile infestation.

And moments into the process, it happened.  “Oh my God!  That is disgusting!”.  I froze in mid-squeeze, and turned sheepishly to face my denouncer; a well-dressed, Business Class-type traveller, dressed ready to walk off the plane and into a high-powered board meeting.  But to my surprise, the man in the suit wasn’t pointing at me, but rather at another man, of South Asian extraction, who I hadn’t notice come in, but who was standing behind me changing his shirt; his 432 rolls of belly fat and man-boobs any female swim-suit model would sell her only brain cell to have, flapping around all over the place.

I grabbed a paper towel, wiped the mess from my face, and got the hell out of their with Mr Business Suit not far behind me.

See, there really is always someone more repugnant than you.  Merry Christmas everyone.

Welcome to my world.  Pic: http://t1.gstatic.com/images