Have a fabulous 2012


Gaga: Rest in Peace (b.2002 - d.2010)

Monday, April 30, 2012

Stalkers of Islamabad !

"Stalking" is defined as repeated and persistent unwanted communications and/or approaches that produce fear in the victim. According to Dr. J. Reid Meloy, author of Violent Attachments and editor of The Psychology of Stalking,  an expert on stalking behavior says that stalkers are psychopaths.

Stalking is something that is mostly associated with men because according to the estimates 95% of the victims are women (females of all age groups) harrassed by men. If we zoom out - almost every country has a fair share of this disease but by zooming in - South Asian men have a special place in their heart for stalking irrespective of their social, economical or geographical divide - this is one aspect that unites them and where we see solidarity. I am sure that Pakistan will turn out to be among the leaders in stalking behaviour. According to Dr. Meloy's , stalkers only threaten harm BUT many carry out their threats and we all know that acid attacks are one of the methods used in South Asia.

I am confident that not a single woman in Pakistan can say that she has never been stalked. Stalking has also evolved with time like everything else. With Internet and mobile phones things have gone a little out of hand and its old tradition.

Why all of a sudden I ended up with this topic. The reason is that we have a Girls High School nearby and one can imagine! What is different today from times when I was a school girl is that almost every girl is accompanied by somebody (usually a father, brother, mother or servants) or else they walk in a big group while coming to school. All girls are wrapped in chaddars and scarfs from sixth grade onward and nothing has helped them to feel protected on their way to school in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Watching these girls pass by my house always bring a moment of delight and is quite nostalgic as well and hence I routinely had my cup of morning tea on terrace while watching these young, brave girls coming to school despite all sorts of odds they come across living in Pakistan. During the recess I witnessed them playing cricket or running around each other - their only moment of becoming a child again - free of liabilities and responsibilities at home. School time is their freedom time - no carrying of young siblings, no cooking, no household chores - heavenly moments.

During all this, I saw two young men almost every other day running back and forth on their motor bike around this school and the school bus and sometimes saw them standing really close to our house since it is uphill and one can see the school very clearly. These young men did all their planning in front of my house on who to stalk and how while a tree in the yard obscured me from their sight. Witnessing it was really sad and without even thinking about what can happen to me I went out to hush them away and in so doing risked myself. I wrapped myself in a  chaddar (a huge shawl for hijab/ to cover onself from head to toe), hold my camera and went down to encounter them when I reached there - one of them was gone already and the other was turning his bike. I took photos of him and the bike and told him that if I will see them one more time in the streets around the school - they will find me at their house with police to talk to their parents. The young man saw me in surprise and sped away on his bike.

I haven't put the mug shot here because Pakistan is a violent place and any such attempt can be quite dangerous and can risk a life but at the same time, I am frustrated that girls and women in general are constantly harrassed in Pakistan. Life is NOT easy for a common woman in Pakistan - it is dangerous, almost always and for all age groups.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

New Blogger Interface hence NO More Posts!

It descended on me that by changing to blogger's new interface, I can NOT BLOG.
In case I want to change all that I have to download the latest version of either Internet Explorer or Google Chrome or Firefox - any one of them. This will NOT happen any time soon since I am NOT ready for the new versions - they are so prune to viral attacks and other problems. I feel that they are no better than the original versions in any way. I just can't understand why to change it in the first place if only it has to become less user friendly?

Every now and then, formats are changed and it is so frustrating. I can no longer login to Facebook - it demands way too many personal questions and I am NOT interested in sharing my personal information - hence, no facbook anymore. Actually, it has saved me hundreds of hours which led to doing better/meaningful stuff than to sneak peak others' life via facbook, hence no remorse!

This change also banged on the google mail account pages and I was blocked to use google account for about a month and one can imagine what anybody would go through in such a situation.

What I understand by "upgrading" this or that - it equates screwing up everything. For example in google mail: to 'delete all' we simply had to choose the option "select all" - one click and all is clean - after upgrading that button is gone. Now we have to click every single message and then click them to delete. It wastes so much time. The upgraded versions have been least helpful and haven't made life easier. They take more time to download than before. I hope that the choice to stick to the old format or changing to a new format must stay with users.

The worst amongst all was hotmail: a nightmare not because  it is old fashioned but for the mere fact that unlike others they delete/change everything without informing the users. They deleted my entire "inbox" at their wish not mine and this left me at a loss to some of the very important and memorable emails. Files I had piled up in my hotmail account and while sitting there harmlessly - I found them disappeared /gone to my surprise and my hotmail account had zero records. This was the last I saw of hotail and never went back to hotmail.com.

Another most stupid thing is the linking of facebook with everything that defines internet. Facbook shifts personal contacts from Yahoo, Gmail, Skype  to Facebook - what can be more bizzare! Why mixing everything?

Hence, I feel that these chages in the name of upgrades must stop. These upgrades are friendlier to their creaters and not the users. I wish everything has stayed independently at their own spot!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Crash Site of Bhoja Air: A New Picnic Spot

Pakistan has been poisoned slowly but surely by its own people, both rulers and who are ruled. We the people have damaged it more than anyone and anything but yes, we are good at pointing fingers at others.
Degradation of ethical and moral values here is hard to witness and to digest. People living in Pakistan really need a psycho therapy at a mass scale. No wonder that deaths, accidents, bombings, suicide attacks, floods, earthquakes, killings, rapes, sectarian genocide and persecution of religious minorities are a norm of the day but amidst all this bloodbath and suffering instead of being more sympathetic and humane than others we have become heartless and soulless.
A good example is that of a recent Bhoja airline crash site. People in hoards are visiting this crash site with their children to enjoy the day - not to pay respects( or offer fateha). While walking around they are seen hitting/kicking the wreckage, posing in front of it and are seen busy in treasure hunting. If you don't believe me, watch it here on BBC. 30,000 people visited the site in 2 days - that is sick, I must say.
I can't help saying that I hate Pakistani authorities, careless and irresponsible as they always are, they have failed to protect this site from access of general public. I understand that we do NOT have enough parks or entertainment venues but hey, a crash site should not be considered as a replacement. I also fail to understand the mindset of the people (morons) who are visiting this crash site: I wonder why are they visiting and roaming around so casually and that too with children at a place where dead bodies were littered all over just 10 days ago. Don't they have better things to do and places to go to.
I want to request Pakistan government to close access for general public at this crash site with immediate effect until all the wreckage is removed and a proper memorial is built for the victims. I also request the people to stop visiting this crash site for reasons of curiosity, treasure hunting and sort.
I repeat, wake up Pakistan: learn to respect the dead, death, death sites - please! Our religion also demands this from us - muslims!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Photo Contest for Foreigners in Seoul 2012

Details are here or simply go to Seoul Global Centers' (SGC) website.
Deadline is 27th. April 2012.
Prizes include 300 USD to 100 USD.

Yet another Flea Market's Special Event for Children is also underway on May 5th.

Free Japanese Language Class at Ichon Global Village is also an option for those interested. Check all these events at SGC.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

M. Farooq Omar Bhoja and Arshad Jalil of Bhoja

Three days have passed since the Bhoja Air flight crashed near Islamabad.
The media ran like a dog after the owner of Bhoja Air - Farooq Omar Bhoja, who owns 5% of the entire shares of Bhoja Air. Nobody is talking about Arshad Jalil who owns 85% shares of Bhoja Air besides 2 more shareholders with 5% shares each.
So who is Arshad Jalil , the main shareholder of Bhoja Air and where is he and why nobody's talking about him?  While googling I found this info. about him at a forum  of Low Cost Airline World in 2009:

"Mr Muhammad Arshad Jalil, Vice Chairman Operations,Shaheen Air
Mr. M. Arshad Jalil has rich aviation experience, spread over a period of three decades. He is an Engineering Graduate and is having valid licenses issued by CAA, Pakistan and FAA, USA.

Mr. Jalil started his aviation carrier with Pakistan International Airline and served the national carrier for a period of 16 years. After leaving PIA, he joined as the founder Managing Director and share holder Director of Aero Asia. Since then he has been the Chief Executives of various airlines and agencies.

CURRENT POSITIONS •VICE CHAIRMAN, SHAHEEN AIR INTERNATIONAL •PRESIDENT AND CEO, JET AVIATION, SHARJAH UAE. Jet Aviation deals in Aircraft Leasing and Charter services. •CHAIRMAN PAK AVIATION ENGINEERING SERVICES.(PAES). PAES is the service provider to Shaheen Air for the maintenance of its Boeing 737s. The company also provides maintenance services to other operators operating through Jinnah International Airport Karachi.

Mr. Arshad Jalil is member of both the Royal Aeronautical Society and Charter Institute of Logistics and Transport. He is married and having two children, a son and a daughter."

The ill fated Boing 737 was on dry-lease from South African Airways at a rate of 20,000USD per month. Doing any sort of business in Pakistan is a challenging part and the tradition of hanging the dog first and trying him later is not gonna do any service to the people - who will be flying these low-cost airlines saving a few dollars and risking their lives.
I think that the governent organizations like Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) must be invesigated thoroughly so that such accidents never happen or not happen so frequently.

Further Reading
Timeline of Air Crashes in Pakistan

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Respect for the Dead in Pakistan.

A Bhoja Air plane just crashed near Islamabad Airport on its inaugral flight.  All 127 passengers on board are confirmed dead. Inna Lilahi wa Inna Elahay Rajeon!

May God give strength to the families of the bereaved to bare this huge loss.

Everything aside, the Pakistani News Channels are mercilessly carrying out live footage and apathetic eye witness accounts of the incident from people whom I think are cashing their 5 minutes of fame on TV - a new craze of this country. One has to have a heart of stone to listen and watch these news and nobody in our media is realizing how tormenting this must have been for the families who have lost their loved ones, so far away and their only source is this outrageous and irresponsible TV coverage. Right choice of words and respect of the dead must be the priority of the TV channels but instead they are busy sensationalizing this accident.

One news anchor asked: would you explain the conditions of the bodies? The answer was gross: the man started explaining what size of body pieces and what body parts he saw in a gruesome way whereas another man behind him was smiling all along. This is what I call WTF moment!

Death is so frequent that it means "nothing" for the people here. Earlier this month, Siachin tragedy could made headline is 8 hours - that's how long it took for the media to give the news its proper place.

Death is less of a tragedy for this country and more of a circus for the media!

We were much better off with one or two channels...really.

I have turned off the TV and would rather read about it than to witness the irresponsible journalism  that surrounds this air crash along with many other tragedies that take place on daily basis in Pakistan. TV channels in Pakistan  boils my blood and drive me crazy.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Gilgit: Down the Memory Lane...

I have lived in Gilgit for a little over 2 years (this city is at an elevation of about 5000 feet above sea level and it's old name was Sargin. It is in the north part of Pakistan - where the Himalayas, Karakorum and the Hindukush meet) and returned to Islamabad in the spring of early 1990s – about two decades have passed, but looking back, it seems like yesterday.

Every memory of the each day spent there is astonishingly fresh. Living there gave me the first hand knowledge of what life actually was? Honestly, it was a very tough life – walking a very thin line, however it was mostly peaceful and stressless. Gilgit taught me many things and some experiences are still standing tall and alone amongst many.

Coming out of the (so-called) comfort zone of living in Islamabad I had no idea what I was heading for, nevertheless, it is one of the most cherished moments in my life. The city in itself was welcoming – its people, culture and landscape.
As soon as I moved to Gilgit, I started my school year and from day one became friends with many girls, majority of whom were from Gilgit city, Hunza and its suburbs. A good number among these girls had come from as far away as Skardu, Sher-Qila, Jaglot, Naltar, Nagar, Astore, Gulmit, Bagrote, Oshkandas, Puniyal etc and even places much farther. At the time, Hunza already had a well-developed Agha Khan school in Karimabad but had no high school. A lot of Hunzajoes (also called Hunzakuts)  as they were called by Gilgities were studying with us. Students were really passionate about studies but the infrastructure and standard of education was not up to the mark. Being in such a remote place – no proper checks and balances were put in place – hence, whosoever could do whatsoever. Very few teachers were available and some of them did not deserve the jobs that they had.

I was living in an area located somewhere in the middle of Yadgar Chowk and the army cantonment of Jutial (also spelled as Jutyal). Close to the airport too. A 10 minutes walk down the “only” road (in Gilgit at the time) from my place used to take me to the main bazar or 10 minutes walk in the opposite direction, up the hill, would take me to Sarena Lodge (now: Sarena Hotel) – and from there it used to take a shape of a loop – encircling the entire cantonment. Right behind my place were open fields bordered with cherry, plum, almond and apricot tress and in one corner was this little cluster of mud and stone houses of Kachraut a predominantly Shia neighborhood. Across a few more fields on its west was another cluster of mud and stone houses of Sunni neighborhood. I visited both the villages, had friends in both the places and used to be invited for lunch, dinner or to chit chat with other girls in both the neighborhoods. I was really NOT aware of the seriousness of the sectarian divide under the surface.  Over the years, to belong to one sect or the other is considered worst than being an atheist in this whole country not just Gilgit-Baltistan. This had to happen since a lot of money, time and energy was spent on such a useless but very deadly game that Pakistani state played with its people. Now, we are sitting on a time bomb - ready to explode.

Anyhow, it was not just the pristine and breathtaking landscape of the region that set it apart but there was another aspect to it – the main asset of this region: its people who were very friendly, helpful and accommodating. Even though I was far from my home and was new to the place I found a special place in the close-knit families of my friends, I was considered as a part of their family. For me it is hard to believe that there is so much violence and war-like situation among various factions today and I will blame the out-side factors and non-locals not the insiders of Gilgit-Baltistan as the real culprits.

Local people there used to mind their own business  -  they were involved in their lives but were always very concerned about one thing: education of their children. Everyone was desperate about sending their children to a schools in their budget, no matter how meagre. Many households sent family members for higher education or for getting jobs to cities like Karachi - which was considered very prestigious. Respect for the teachers in Gilgit was an outstanding feature unlike what it was in Islamabad – their status was next to God - same as in Japan or Korea.

Very modest and simple lives were lived there by more than 95% of the people but like every other place on earth, Gilgit also had its fair share of elites which comprised of people working in foreign NGOs or working for the government including the military. There were families with royal bloodlines of rajas and maharajas and they were mostly very modest and down to earth. Over all, it was a big, happy family and not an estranged and a divided community though there were differences. Having have differences is a healthy feature of any normal society.

The valley was like a cup of tea – surrounded by “extremely high” mountains and the sun light used to fade at 2p.m and it used to get dark since the sun used to hide behind the monstrous, high altitude mountains. When I first arrived in Gilgit it was fall – and the tress were changing colors mostly to yellow due to tall poplar trees lined-up in rows but splashes of orange, red and maroons were a nice combination. Nights were very chilly and days were very short.  Soon after, winters arrived and they were very harsh. There was hardly any system to keep oneself warm, traditional houses had wooden roofs.

People had makeshift old-style fire places and sometimes a bucket of burning embers was put under a table which was then covered with a coarse/thick blanket and everybody used to sit around this low – Japanese style table with legs crossed underneath and that was a great way to escape cold nights while eating or studying late at night. Due to cold weather water pipelines either froze or burst and power shortage was frequent. The city only had a few hours of electricity on daily basis but everyone was hopeful about future...and expected it to be better, brighter and promising. After an unbearable winter came spring, my favorite time of the year, entire city used to bloom in the shades of pink color due to cheery, apricot and almond flowers alongside bright green sprouting leaves and grass all over the place in an otherwise grey shades of barren mountains and it was soon followed by summer when trees used to be loaded with fruits such as cherries, apricots, peaches, malburries and plums.

I still remember and miss the air that used to be so clean and fresh that breathing in was like having have a nice, cooling effect in the lungs, the sunshine was sharp and bright, at night the skies were full of stars on a clearer day to an extent that there was not an inch left empty of stars – I have never seen this many stars except in animations or children's drawings. In the backdrop snow clad mountains used to give a silver glow because of moonlight's reflection, there were numerous streams of icy melted water all over the place and one could hear them flowing – it was so beautiful. Over the years, I have heard that overall temperature has risen to about 7 degrees centigrade and unlike old days – now one needs a fan in summers. It is hard to believe but environmental changes are inevitable and are taking their toll. 

 Almost everyone had a cow or a goat or both, a small garden and fruit trees – so basic needs were met at bare minimum but what was hard to get was fuel, firewood, kerosine and gas cylinders. Life was carved out of what the region could provide. I still remember that the only snack sold at our canteen was boiled potatoes sprinkled with salt and pepper. What we call Kimchi in South Korea, we had something similar to it in Gilgit where vegetables were pickled /fermented in the same way as is Kimchi and was used in winters. Among many dishes, I still remember the fresh hand-made noodle soup call laghman. Mandu or dumplings were also common – funny isn’t it. This food came here via families that had extended links in Kashgar in Xinjiang hence, the Chinese – style food influence seeped in.

There was this broken wooden hut on Jutial road - barely enough for 3 people to stand together - where an old man used to sell samosas and tea and was one of my favourite spots to stopby on my way up or down the road. We also had a very modest Governemt Boys Middle School on this road. The boys school uniform was dark grey shalwar/qameez and green caps with a red monogram whereas girls was the blue and white shalwar qameez with white scarf (green in case of Agha Khan schools).

Gilgit’s downtown and bazaar, the hub of activity, had everything from its own Raja Bazar to a Jamia mosque, to sabzi mandi, motels, restaurants, bookstores, stationaries, pharmacies and so on. One could hear languages as varied as Shina, Brushiski, Balti, Pushto, Uyger, Mandarin, Punjabi, English and Urdu to name a few. The bazaar was not the prettiest or most exciting of places however; it had almost everything that one would seek. A small makeshift shop would be selling eggs, onions and apples put together in the same basket alongside a hiking gear or a kerosene oil lamp. Almost every shop had dried apricots, walnuts and almonds and some local souvenirs such as Pattu - local, handwoven cloth for jackes as well as chitrali caps and embroided long sleeved coats in beige color. Our favourite produce was dry apricots with almonds inside as well as pure almond oil pressed in front you. I hardly saw local women doing shopping or if they did – things were brought inside the jeep/ car etc. I still remember that my friend shopped for shoes and the man brought shoes to us in the jeep but nothing was forbidden, it was just a cultural thing.

A little hhike  , at Kargah was this beautiful Buddah Statue carved on a mountain

Local public transport was Suzuki pickups with bright flower decorations and caligraphies and sparkling laces hanging with them and they used to shuttle between Jutial and the Polo ground and also to Gilgit suburbs of Konudas, Danyore etc. where the “only” Boys Degree College was located. It was across the Gilgit river and could be accessed by passing through a hanging bridge whereas another bridge was under construction. Only 8 or 9 buildings had two floors and among them were the Girls Inter College and a shabby DHQ hospital on the same road. The tallest building was the ugly Park Hotel in main bazaar – probably 5 or 6 stories high with NATCO bus stand on one of its sides….who had thought that years later passengers on these NATCO buses will be lined up in the middle of their journeys and shot at point blank just because of their sect. Who had thought that a road trip on KKH/ Silk Road would turn into an occassional genocide of the people of Northern Areas. Who had thought that linking of many of the unknown valleys and town on the Silk Road will face violence of this sort.

Even in 1990 I personally witnessed a curfew, it was my first time, with sounds of sirens go off alongwith the warnings on  loud speakers. That day, I was in Konudas area and was returning home and had just crossed the bridge over Gilgit River. Curfew in itself was not scarey because I could not see soldiers everywhere or firing or fighting but overall it brought the city to a standstill and a very strage feeling of uneasiness prevailed for days. People had big families back then like 8 or 10 children on an average so I wonder how they coup with such a situation? Population of Gilgit was a couple of thousands and now it is reaching a 200,000 mark - almost a quarter of a million. I can't believe it...for the size of Gilgit city - it is a huge number.

Gilgit  and the entire Northern Pakistan is in news for all the wrong reasons. All of the people who have travelled there, lived there, locals or visitors - are in the state of awe.
It has been years that I want to visit Gilgit but honestly, on every trip to Pakistan - I really do NOT have the courage to put myself together and witness the bloodshed, hatred and degradation of all sort in my favourite city where I lived as a young student trying to fit in that culture.

The images of Gilgit that I have may not be valid anymore but much is still the same - poverty, economic divide, poor infrastructure, scarcity of food and basic utilities, crumbling tourism but the worst of them all is the religious divide and I can NOT take that. I still hope that things get back to normal – less crazier than they are now.

My fondest memories of Gilgit include:
- Getting a day-old newspaper and a day old television (PTV) broadcast that used to reach the city by air depending on weather's clearity and flights.
- View of Rakaposhi from your room or lawn.
- Salted tea and the traditional bread.
- My first time seeing apples growing on trees.
- My classmates, neighbors and their warmness and endless hospitality.
- In winters getting a gas cylinders was like winning a jackpot.
- Crossing the hanging bridges was always a hard part.
- Occasional moment of screaming out loud while standing at the banks of gushing River Gilgit and this habit is still going strong - Han River is a witness.
- Crying over postponed flights and road blockade of Karakorum Highway (KKH) also called the Silk Road - it was a feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world - literally.
- Sobbing on the return of the Fokker flight en route Islamabad - Gilgit from Bisham or Chilas was a heart breaking experience and I always dreamed of a tiny, little air strip in Chilas or Bisham to land there and continue the remaining journey by road (used to be about 8 hours).
- Once in the valley, scenes like planes flying out of the city left us quite desperate.
- Cherry blossoms of Gilgit and Hunza were as good as those in Japan and South Korea combined but the taste of cherries: best in the world.
- The mighty mountains - and the greetings /decorations on these mountain tops on special festivities was something I have never seen anywhere.
- Walk ways littered with apples, apricots and other local fruits.
- I always felt closer to Heaven - being on such a high altitude. I was in heaven.
- Starry night, sparking mountains, gushing winds and the sound of poplar tress at night - always wowed me.
- Peace and serenity of the area was its main asset.

Dig Further:
Website of Gilgit-Baltistan Tourism
Shamans or Bitan of Hunza
Education: Status of Colleges in Gilgit- Baltistan 2009-2010
Cherry Blossoms (파키스탄의벚꽃축제/Baut - Kaut in Northern Pakistan, Sakura in Hunza 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Elections Underway in South Korea Today...

...and the results depend on what they call twitter generation in South Korea. The major issues at stake are rising prices, allegations of sleaze in government and growing discontent over the power of big business, all of which could go against the ruling Saenuri Party.
Many analysts say that the liberal opposition could emerge a surprise winner. Youth votes in South Korea can turn the election in any direction they want and one such example is that of Roh Moo-hyun.
Riding on tide of public discontent for the political establishment, human rights lawyer Moon Jae-in has surged into the running for the presidency after playing a role to unify the disparate centre-left into a single coalition late last year.
In a Korea Times update: "Polls opened at 6 a.m. and will close 12 hours later. As of 11 a.m., 7.89 million people, or 19.6 percent of the registered voters, cast their ballots, according to the website of the country's election regulator, the National Election Commission. The turnout was 0.4 percentage point higher than the the previous general elections in 2008."
It is interesting to note that the eligible voters in Wednesday's polls total about 40 million, 80 percent of Korea's 50 million population. Voters will cast their ballots at a total of 13,470 polling stations across the country according to the national news agency Yonhap.
South Korea's election results weigh heavily on the voter turnout and it is predicted that it must be somewhere between 55-60%. Though the elections are neck and neck but it is most likely that ruling party will be ousted by the progressives.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Win a Car - Participate in a Contest

by participating in an event below organized by MOFAT (Foreign Ministry) inviting expats to join a video contest to promote Korea.

Entrants should post a 3-minute clip on the theme “I love Korea Because …” and upload it to YouTube or another video hosting site. They should then fill in an application form, and send it to culturemofat@gmail.com or culturemofat@mofat.go.kr.

Prizes include a car, a 1-week trip to Korea and tickets to a live K-pop show. Two laptops will be given out as second prizes, as well as three third prizes of a tablet PC and five runners-up prizes of a digital camera.

The deadline for applications is May 20 and a description in Korean or English must be attached with the application form. The form can be downloaded from http://bit.ly/Hctbpc.

Results will be announced June 11.

No Taxi Allowed at Namsan from May 10th.

Foreign tourists will not be able to access areas on the top of Namsan via taxi from next month, Seoul City Hall said Monday. Instead they will have to take shuttles (Hyundai- Hankook Fibre's creaion: electric buses enroute to Namsan) or walk.
City officials say that the ban is also aimed at protecting foreign tourists from cabbies who try to overcharge them, as well as to abolish “reverse discrimination.” The city has banned the passage of vehicles on the mountain to preserve nature and offer visitors a more agreeable environment for walking. People are obliged to walk, take a cable car, or ride a shuttle bus up the parkway leading to the main tower.
During an intensive crackdown for the last two weeks, the city detected 15 cases where taxi drivers took advantage of the foreign passengers’ unfamiliarity with Korea’s traffic system. An official told“For example, a driver carrying four passengers charged 10,000 won to each of them, totaling 40,000 won, while the original fare might have been about 6,000 won if charged by the meter.” Read the entire story HERE at Korea Times.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Tour de Korea 2012

Modeled on the Tour de France, the world’s largest cycling competition, Tour de Korea started in 2007 to promote bicycle culture among the Korean public. This year, the tour consists of two competitions:

  1. Elite Racing for cyclists registered in Union Cycliste Internationale; and
  2. Special Racing for domestic and foreign cycling clubs. 

The Korea Tourism Organization is proud to announce that Tour de Korea 2012 the only road cycling competition in Korea will being on April 22nd in Incheon.  The tour will last until April 29th, covering 10 major cities of Korea including Buyeo, Gwangju, Yeosu, and Yeoju.

For more information visit their website at Tour de Korea 2012.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Greg Mortenson Found Guilty of Mismanagement and Misuse of Funds for his NGO in Pakistan

 It is a beautiful story but it's a lie (says Joe Krakauer in 60 minutes)

Greg Mortenson was himself surprised by the unexpected success of his two book ( 3 Cups of Tea and Stones into Schools) and his charity CAI (Central Asia Institute). Misuse of millions of dollars in donations and non- transparency in his charity finally lead to his down fall.

The main criticism was that he fabricated his stories in a non-fiction book and then his charity was used as a personal ATM for Mortenson says one of the board members of CAI who later resigned. Jon Krakaur in his book 3 Cups of Deceit mainly focused on the fact that Mortenson created a myth; was accountable to no one; and established ghost schools. I have to say that in a Pakistani context it is nothing new and nothing strange or even to be ashamed of.  Scores of people and governments have done this and got away with it in Pakistan. What's more important is the fact that Mortenson has deceived the donors who trusted him with money (more than 100 million dollars) for a cause that was actually very noble. Very young school children helped raise millions of dollars through Pennies for Peace project across the United States with 2600 schools associated with Greg Mortenson's charity. Moreover, he lied in his books which he defended as compression of events. I think that there is nothing wrong in admitting that one has come from across the world to build a school or two ( like Pakistan-Austria Primary School in Besham - A gift from a "real" mountaineer Gerfried Göschl and his family ) but one need not exaggerate. With 200 million people in Pakistan - how many have built schools or even fixed the problems in the already built public schools.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that:

"Under a settlement with the Montana Attorney General’s office, Greg Mortenson, the once-acclaimed author of “Three Cups of Tea,” has agreed to reimburse more than $1 million. Officials determined that the writer mismanaged funds raised to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan and diverted some to his own use, the AP reports (detail is HERE). Mortenson was removed as CAI’s executive director last fall, but he can stay on as an employee and will continue to draw a salary from the charity. The office further stated that Motenson is prohibited from holding any positions involving financial oversight.The Montana attorney general's report portrays Mortenson as a "complicated person" whose behavior jeopardized his noble pursuits. According to the report, CAI paid for Mortenson's travel expenses for his paid speaking engagements and the promotion of his book "Three Cups of Tea," while he personally pocketed travel reimbursements from event sponsors and speaking fees of up to $30,000 per engagement.
Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock says his office will monitor the organization to make sure it complies with the agreement. In his report, Bullock says, "Despite the severity of their errors, CAI is worth saving."

Really...is that all!!!

Since 2006, more than 100 million dollars have rolled in. His book was a mandatory read for all American soldiers in Afghanistan. Moreover, what about the accuracy of the contents in his books, his stories that are fabricated. Is it not unfair that he called his hosts in the tribal belts of Pakistan terrorists / taliban who kidnapped him which is such a big lie (More HERE). He sold fiction under non-fiction books.

Mortensen wrote: He was kidnapped by theTaliban in 1994

Here I have to say that Pakistan and the United Sates have a lot in common when it comes to the courts and serving justice. I strongly feel that Mortenson should resign from CAI (Central Asia Institute) which American Institute of Philanthropy also suggests.  All the schools that Mortenson established particularly in Northern Pakistan should work in collaboration with "The Agha Khan Rural Support Program" also known as Agha Khan Development Network one of the most trusted names working in this area for the longest time alongside CAI.

I don't know what implications will Mortenson's lawsuit etc. will have on his good name and reputation in Pakistan - but for some NGOs such as Depilex Smile Again Pakistan Foundation - for acid attack victims- they have got away with misuse of funds in millions of dollars, a copy cat of Mortenson's case. Up to 3 million dollars are unaccounted for. Hence transparency and accountability are two important factors that must NOT be undermined.

Finally, just have to say that people who try to be a face of the faceless and voice of the voiceless and do NOT empower these people to speak for themselves or stand for themselves then there is definitely something wrong with such projects no matter how noble a cause is. As a Pakistani, I am sad and disappointed with this whole saga. Greg Mortensen has a lot in common with the Pakistani elites - making money at the expense of poor and desperate people!

Read also:
Update: Ongoing legal woes for Greg Mortenson, 2/14/12;
Update: Jon Krakauer slams Greg Mortenson in digital expose, 4/19/11;
Author Greg Mortenson under fire after critical “60 Minutes” report, 4/18/11"
Three Cups of Sincerity by Nausheen Ali
Thank you all, for your support by Greg Mortenson