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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pakistan trip - The Karachi series part 1

First things first:
1. I hate being back in Singapore.
2. I wanna go back to Pakistan again.
3. I loved it I loved it I TOTALLY LOVED it!


The thing with good fortune is that it plays a lot of games with you, and often smashes your heart to pieces before it shows itself.


I still remember how excited I was in July this year when my Sales Manager told me that he wanted to send me to Pakistan to conduct a presentation and Science workshop to promote our books there. At first I thought my parents would forbid me, but luckily they had no issues. It took me six exhausting visits to the Pakistan Embassy before I got my visa.

And that's when the trip was cancelled, breaking my heart.

Some time later, the trip was planned again, and the Manager asked me if I was available to go in November instead. The initial dates he gave me clashed with my final exams, and with a heavy heart I had to tell him to find another speaker. Well, it seems he tried and no one agreed (yeay!), and the trip dates kept changing till I finally discovered that according to the final schedule, the trip would begin right after my exams. I jumped at the chance and immediately told my Manager "I can go I can go I can go I can go! Send me send me send me send me!" He readily agreed and I applied for the visa again (the earlier one had expired). This time, it only took three trips to get the visa. My last exam was on the 23rd of November, and I had to fly out on the 25th. Things were moving at breakneck speed, and before I knew it, I found myself aboard SQ 0460 on a 4-hour flight to Karachi.

Day 1 - 25th November 2006

The best thing about flying SQ is the inflight entertainment, and I watched a few sitcoms, and this hindi movie called 'Humko deewana kar gaye yaar' starring Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif, which surprisingly turned out to be decent fare. The movie is about the feeling that brings two random strangers together, and connects them in a strange sort of way. But why am I talking about Bollywood here?

Our flight landed at around 10 pm, and our host and the distributor of our books Mr. N was there with one of "the boys" R to receive us. More about "the boys" later. Landing at Karachi airport felt just like landing in India. There really was no difference. The airport authorities had given me a form and asked me to register at a police special branch within 24 hours. Turns out that since my passport was an Indian one, I'd have to register at each of the cities on my agenda and get stamps from them indicating the date of entry and exit. Mr. N said that we could do it the next day (it was a sunday and the presentation was only on Monday).




















The registration form - a little piece of paper with big stuff

We made our way to the Carlton hotel, which was pretty decent. I was starving (I don't know what on earth had possessed me to ask for vegetarian food in the flight, and it was so horrible that I'd had only a few bites.)















Dinner at the Carlton hotel - yummmmmmyyyyyyyy!

Day 2 - 26th November 2006
The next day was a glorious winter sunday. Mr. N had told me that he would pick me up at 11 am to get me registered at the police station. But I was up at 7. That's the weirdest thing I noticed. When I'm in Singapore, getting up at 6.30 am to go to work seems like such a torture, but in Pakistan I was up early on most days.

I had breakfast with the speakers for English and Maths, and we decided to take a tour of the hotel, mainly because I was dying to step out of the air-conditioning and feel the real winter. The hotel staff sent a staff member to show us the hotel's cruise area. There were many little boats, and in the horizon we could see the Arabian sea.















Me chilling out on the boat 'Babar'

We decided to take a walk outside the hotel. The moment we stepped out, we got weird stares from people around us, possibly because we dressed differently, or because it was strange for people to see two Chinese and one Indian/Pakistani looking females roaming the streets. We realised soon that other than a long stretch of road, there was not much to be seen around the hotel, so we made our way back. On the way, we crossed this van whose tall, well-built driver dressed in a pathan suit was standing outside with the van doors open, and blasting the song 'Yaara seeli seeli'. Bollywood songs are very popular and I heard them in almost every car I travelled in.

I came back to the room to watch some Pakistani TV. Most channels showed either cricket or TV programs from India, but I finally managed to find a local channel.















Pretty TV host
















This tarot card reader on the show was trying to advise a girl on which of the two families she had short-listed for an arranged marriage she should go for.

Mr. N was soon there to pick me up and I got a little tour of Karachi on the way to the police station.















The three pillars - Unity, Faith and Discipline















Karachi city - looks just like any other city in India, doesn't it?

Well, it turns out that the police station was closed because it was a sunday, and so we'd have to go back the following day. In the car, Mr. N asked me if I knew how to speak Urdu. When I said I did, we started talking in Urdu. At first, it felt a bit scary to be sitting in a car without my seat belt on, and with Mr. N furiously sms-ing and answering calls on his mobile phone, but I got used to it soon. Now and then a thought would cross my mind "Gosh I'm really in Pakistan!" which excited me to no end!

Mr. N took me home to meet his family. His father Mr. Z turned out to be one of the most impressive men I have met in my life. He was working with a renowed publisher before he started his own book business. Mr. Z's wife was very affectionate and spoke to me in Urdu on length about the crowd in Orchard Road during Christmas (they visit Singapore pretty often). Though I could not meet Mr. N's wife, I met his two adorable kids.

Before we departed, Mr. Z and his wife had a gift for me from Jafferjee's - a top brand for leather goods in Pakistan. It was a very beautiful black leather purse with embroidery on it. The moment I saw it, my first thought was "I'd better not get too attached to it, cos my sis will definitely flick it!" And that's when I opened it and went "Muahahaha!" in my head. The purse had my name embroidered on the inside. Muahahahahaha! Muahahaha! :D















My Jafferjee's purse!

We set off for lunch at Taipan - a Chinese food place in the Pearl Continental hotel - one of the big chain of hotels owned by the owner of the Marriott chain. On the way, we saw armed gunmen everywhere. It was intimidating at first, but we got used to it. At lunch, we were introduced to "the boys" - R, U and K. The "boys" were the marketing executives of our distributor, and had planned and implemented the presentations in all the cities - Karachi, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore. They spoke little, and were very formal with me, but that was soon to change in the next few days. Every time Mr. N or Mr. Z referred to them as "the boys", I'd have mental images of "the boys" playing cricket and Azhar/Inzi saying "The boys played really well" and I'd be chuckling to myself. Mentally.

Mr. Z was the chattiest of the lot, and it was really fun to talk to him in Urdu. I instantly grew very fond of him. He reminded me a lot of my grandfather who was a powerful man with one weakness - me. After lunch, he said, "Sayesha, paan khaogi?"

"Paan?"

"Paan nahin pata?" ("You don't know paan?")

"Nahin, pata toh hai... lekin Pearl Continental mein paan milta hai?" ("I know, but you get paan in Pearl Continental?")

"Hahaha... come I'll show you."

There was actually a shop in the Pearl Continental called 'PC Pan shop'!















Mr. Z bought me the special Pearl Continental paan.

After lunch, "the boys" took off (I think they were too glad to do so!) while we decided to go to the Clifton beach.















View of the beach from our car















A closer look at the beach
















As we sauntered around, a camel man approached us.















Spotting the "foreigners", he asked us if wanted to ride his camel.

"Ever been on a camel, Sayesha?" Mr. N asked me.

"Nope. Elephant yes, camel no."

"Do you want to...?"

"Yes yes yes!"

The Maths speaker also wanted to, but the English speaker declined.
















Camel man adjusts the saddle.















The camel turns around to say "Hello, Sayesha!"
















Alright, we're all set...















... and off we go!

It was the wobbliest ride of my entire life, but very exciting nonetheless. I looked down and everything appeared so tiny. The sand was black, really black, and the footprints of the camel man filled up with water as he walked along. I was really enjoying the winter air. Somewhere along the way, the camel decided that life was too boring, and started trotting. The sudden jerking scared the Maths speaker who asked me to ask the man to slow the camel down. I spoke to him in Urdu, and he was so delighted that I spoke his language, he asked me "Pani mein le jaaun unt ko?" ("Should I take the camel into the water?")

"Thodi door, lekin zyada andar nahin." I replied. ("Don't take it in too far.")

Actually I'd have liked to go in, but the Maths speaker was kinda freaking out by now. So we returned.















I pose with the camel. It's smiling too, can you see??















Suddenly out of nowhere, two little boys with horses had turned up and surrounded "the foreigners".

Other horses and camels also started closing in, with the hope that maybe seeing how we'd enjoyed ourselves, the others would want to take a ride too. We decided to get out of there.

"Since today is your free day, perhaps you should do some shopping, Sayesha. Tomorrow is a full day of work." Mr. Z suggested.

They took us to Park Towers, one of the few malls that was open on a sunday. On the way, I was telling Mr. Z about this Pakistani TV show called 'Bakra kishton pe' that I used to watch when I was a kid. He was so amused he kept laughing.

It was only when I entered the mall that I realised the stark contrast between the people outside and the ones inside. The people on the streets had been the typical what-we-see-on-news kind, mostly men, dressed in pathani suits, bearded and kinda formidable looking. But the mall was full of people dressed in modern clothes, and most guys were very tall, fair, well-built and clean shaven - in other words - hunks galore! (and may I just pause momentarily to say 'WOW'.)















I went wandering around the mall and quickly found an accessories shop. I bought myself this set. And my credit card worked, yeay!
















Pretty, huh? Sister, if you're reading this, no I'm not giving it to you! :/

Suddenly, Mr. Z handed me a bag and said "Sayesha, this is for you!"

"Another gift??"

"Kholke dekho toh!" ("Open it and see!")

When I opened it, I was speechless. It was the DVD of 'Bakra kishton pe' and yet another one he thought I'd like. How often does it happen that someone actually remembers what you mentioned casually? I was really really touched by his gesture.




















My second gift from Mr. Z
















Other CDs I bought - two by Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali (one with Gulzar and one with Asha Bhosle) and 'Aadat' by Pakistani band 'Jal'.

I wandered into an antique shop next, and they were playing the song 'Kabhi toh nazar milao' and I was thinking about how incredibly talented Adnan Sami is, when I suddenly saw what I could not believe I saw. Just when I was still high from the camel ride and thought that I could not get any higher, there he was - a guy who looked just like Adnan Sami! At first I thought I'd imagined him - after all, I was listening to his song and thinking about him. Besides, how likely is it to bump into Adnan Sami in Karachi??

So all muddle-headed, I ran to look for Mr. Z.

"Mr. Z, Mr. Z, I need you to verify something for me. Please come with me. I think I just saw Adnan Sami!"

"Adnan Sami?? Yahan??"

"Aap aaiye toh!"

He accompanied me, and I pointed out the guy to him.

"Yes I think it's him."

Before he's completed his statement, I'd tumbled into the shop and shaken hands with Adnan Sami. And as often happens when you're facing someone you're awed by, you start saying really stupid stuff.

"Adnan sahab, bagal wali dukaan mein aapka gana baj raha hai!!" ("Mr. Adnan, your song is playing in the shop next door!!")

"Uhh... haan." He smiled politely.

*Duh! Sayesha takes out hypothetical rolled-up newspaper and thunks herself on the head with it.*















So yes, I had my picture, and no, he's not as fat as he looks on TV.

Soon, we were done, and were advised to go back to the hotel and get some good rest to prepare for the next day's presentation.















The dinner place at our hotel had a huge TV that was almost always screening cricket!















I think my interest in cricket was rekindled during this tour. Gotta catch up on all that I missed in the last 8 years!

As I snuggled into the comfy bed that night, I took a moment to remind myself once again how fortunate I was.

I was actually in Pakistan. WOW.

Coming up next in the Karachi series - The "ladies waiting room" in the police station, a censored chapter, and a fire breakout during my presentation

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