Sunday, October 29, 2000

Jesse for President

Ducci, I was at a local indian restaraunt in Chennai (madras) and everyone was eating with their fingers so I did too. People were laughing at me because

1. I was a foreigner eating like a local
2. I was making a mess all over myself.

I said to the guy across from me that I liked eating with my hands and he replied to me in an indian accent. 'God gave you five fingers and that's better than a fork'

cheers and take care,

From: "Jeff Howell"
To: "Kevin Lapin"
Subject: painting the passports brown
Date: Mon, 6 Nov 2000 14:36:35 -0800

I'm sitting over here in this United States of America place, watching the news...the politicians... the 'candidates and I'm these guys suck! What we need is a genuine grassroots campaign. Jesse long for President. Of course we wouldn't change a thing about him, there'd be no spin doctors, no handlers, hell, we wouldn't really even keep him informed on the issues. We'd just throw him up there behind the podium and let him work his magic. This country needs a feller who knows himself. A fella not afraid to go a few days without washing. A fella who once wore jackets that looked like they were made from carpet patterns. A guy with a closet, not full of skeletons...but useless Kung Fu pads. A fella with a dog named Duke and Samuel Clemens for a father. A scrabble lover. A traveler. The type of man who'll give up sugar for a while. And a guy who's not afraid to throw back a few shots of wheat grass. Because when it comes down to it, there are very few people have what it takes to run a country...few who have the ability to motivate the peoples! See, when it comes to getting folks off their asses and into motion some know the way, but most, how should I put this... do not have way. Jesse has way.

All the way.

Just one man's opinion.


Monday, October 23, 2000


Pakistan, where we have spent the last ten days, gets its name from an 'Urdu' word meaning 'land of no lingerie stores'. It is a vibrant and colorful country and one of the crazier places you'll ever go--unless, of course you go, like, you know, to the funny farm.

Right away on our plane ride into Islamabad, our first stop, we knew Pakistan would be different when we saw three different passengers on the plane travelling with hawks. It seems that the country really appreciates birds as aviaries abound.

There are also these sort of mini-van buses that would make Gaudi blush everywhere you go. These colorful buses are privately owned and decorated, and run regular routes. The proud owners will spend as much as $3,000 to have one of their buses hand-decorated, and this is a lot of money when you consider the people taking the bus are generally working over 12 hours a day for less than a dollar.

The Pakistani aesthetic tends to a sort of circus baroque where more is definitely more. You can see this in the garish colors, ornate mosques decorated with gold and silver, bright clothes and in the saccharine histrionics of the thousands of music videos and movies produced every year in 'Bollywood'. It's very happy and energetic, like the Pakistanis themselves.

Pakistani ebullience literally pours out into the streets, as going somewhere in Pakistan consists of getting on, or hanging on, one of the crowded buses; loading up your camel and cart; hailing a three-wheeled motorized (or not) rickshaw; riding a bicycle with huge bales of cargo strapped to it; or cramming your whole family onto a small motorcycle (I'm not kidding, we regularly saw a man driving with a woman sitting side-saddle and two young kids on a motor bike that was probably no more than 100cc). The only rule of the road seemed to be that of Inshallah, or god willing. What's amazing is that despite this mayhem of dust and traffic and zig-zagging, pedestrians and vendors coming to your window offering papadam or coconut and the staccato symphony of short honks, which everyone uses to let other drivers know that they are overtaking, or that, yes, they are running that red light and cutting across three lanes of traffic containing five lanes worth of vehicles to make a left turn, that through all of this, everyone seems to be fairly calm and enjoying themselves. There's no road rage!

The people, and there are at least 15 million of them crammed into Karachi, are incredibly friendly and helpful, unless, I suppose, you're from India. One taxi driver explained to us as that he didn't like the people from India because he thought that they put on nice faces but had empty hearts. While this may show the driver's prejudice (a prejudice which may be understandable given the two countries' ongoing strained relationship) it also shows the Pakistani value on 'having heart'.

The countryside is beautiful, but there is no work. There are also a fair amount of armed terrorists wandering around in the north. Artisans still practice their craft of weaving, carving, needle pointing etc. exactly as it has been done for hundreds of years. They may work for a week on decorating one cloth band that sells in the market for the equivalent of a dollar.

So, many Pakistani men are faced with the decision of staying in their home village where there is no work and little to no facilities (school, clean water, Internet etc.), or move to the crowded, polluted city and work for almost nothing (by even their standards). Luckily, there are no bars in predominantly Muslim Pakistan and 'Keno' hasn't been invented yet, so most of the money they earn makes it home to their families, which on average consists of seven or eight children a wife and parents or grand-parents. No pressure, right? The other choice is to join a work gang in Saudi Arabia or Dubai or another of the wealthy oil countries in the Gulf. This generally entails getting and then giving up your passport (the employers keep the passports “for your protection”) and working for several years at a time without returning home.

As a result of this cheap and abundant labor force, all the hotels and nice restaurants are ridiculously overstaffed. It was almost a nuisance to arrive at the hotel and have three people trying to open doors and help us with our luggage (tip, tip, tip), then we would get to our room and every five minutes there would be a knock at our door with someone offering to get us water or do laundry or clean our room, again! Despite or because of this extra-help, I'm not sure which, you still never quite get what you want. And that, of course, is what makes Pakistan so crazy and so much fun.

I think it would be difficult to live in Pakistan for several reasons. First, although I loved the energy and craziness, you would want at least a few things to work like you expected, for instance a flight leaving when it says, rather than earlier, later or just not at all. Second, it is still a primarily Muslim culture which means that men and women don't talk much (or hold hands) until they are married, which even then is generally arranged for them. Third, it ain't easy to find what Jesse calls a 'brew-ha'. Fourth, and most significantly, it would be hard to live around so much poverty. I would feel uncomfortable having a cook, a driver and a gardener, but would also feel guilty not hiring them with so many people in need of work. Alas, life is a paradox and I lost one of my dox in the washing machine!

Speaking of washing machines, you won't find many here. What you see in the photos below is the enormous laundry land in Karachi. We were told that this sprawling maze of concrete troughs, basins, children and piles of clothes services the whole city. Like a Fed-Ex fleet on foot, women work their routes picking up dirty laundry from people’s houses and delivering them, dunked, beaten, twisted and cleaned laundry several days later.


Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Bye Bye Dubai

Dear Friends and Family,

Our five days in Dubai were a welcome break after our month stretch in Saudi Arabia. Dubai is an oasis and gem in the middle of the Arabian peninsula. It is a beautiful and bustling city in the United Arab of Emirates. It is also one of the few places in the Arab world where you can get a beer (legally).

As far as cosmopolitan centers goes, Dubai is a great place to visit. If you are going to build massive steel and glass altars to commerce, then this is how they should be done. The offices and sky-scrapers of Dubai are brilliant and give the city a boost of energy and light. One of the most famous hotels, called the Burj-Al-Arab is here. It’s the only five-star hotel or something like that and each room comes with it’s own valet.

We have reason to believe that there are some interesting museums and tourist type things to do in Dubai as well, although we wouldn't know because we quickly decided to spend our few days of vacation in a different emirate, Fujirah, at the Sandy Beach Resort.

From the picture of the beach, you can get an idea of how little we did for two days straight. The snorkeling was great. They say that the Gulf War put a dent in the flora and fauna, but it looked pretty good to us. The sand was warm and the sound of the sea relaxing.

One of our creative projects 'en cours' is to put together a un-phonetic alphabet with things like ‘p as in pneumonia’ and ‘k as in knife’. Our other project is a book of weird and surreal signs from around the world. Here are a couple interesting ones to give you an idea. If you see any more let us know.

Bye-bye Dubai, Hello Pakistan...


Friday, October 6, 2000

Heading to Dammam (Dishtar Aramco Rock Version)

Heading to Dammam
(Dishtar Aramco Rock Version)

Head out on the highway
Driving to Dammam today.
Driving through the desert
You gotta pray five times a day
No way, no way,
No way, no way.

If you're a woman in Saudi
Then you've gotta wear a veil.
When you're driving through the desert
The weather's never cloudy, oh well.

All the men, so sheik,
Ya' know they pray five times a day
Better get down on your knees for Allah
Or you know you're goin' to hell.

Head out on the highway
Heading to Dammam.
Driving through the desert,
The cradle of Islam.
Dammam (4x).

Camels to the left,
Camels to the right,
Sleeping with bedouins
Gives me such a fright.

No alcohol, no bourbon
Hide, hide, hide it
Under your turban.
Bet you didn't know that the Kingdom's kind of urban.
(triple rhyme)

In the desert dry of water
Mint tea in my eye (ouch).
Is this Arab guy offering me a camel or his daughter.


Mostly sand, not much soil,
Katsudon lots of oil.
All the princes, oh so many
Ruling country
Petrolled hands clenched so tight.
The Koran says if you're riding a camel you ain't Shi'ite.
(go Sunnis)

That's the way it goes in Saudi of Arabia (ah, ah).
I say, maybe, oh maybe
I'll get back some day (eh, eh).
There's just ain't much social life
And it's hard to have fun and play (hey, hey)
When all the parties you go to are BYOW (Bring Your Own Wife),
Ya' know it's true-oooh.

chorus (2x)

Hope you enjoyed and keep it Pretty Simple,
Kevin & Jesse

PS email us if you are interested in the tab for the sung version.