Welcome to Darkside Daily

When I'm not writing about my experiences in this journey called 'life', I'm singing and uploading my own interpretations of modern music. Click on "Cover Songs" to hear them, or on the YouTube logo on the right to see my YouTube channel.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Scandinavian Road Trip : Day 7

If you’ve been following our Scandinavian Road Trip, our last post left us agonizingly close to stepping into a submarine. Day 6 would not throw up too many such surprises, as we explored the second largest city in Sweden, Gothenburg.

Gothenburg was not as I expected it to be. After spending the first few days in the Swedish countryside, I assumed that by driving up to Gothenburg the big-country-small-towns-simple-life image I had of Sweden would disappear in a cloud of marijuana smoke and gun-fire as drug dealers, huge beer bellied thugs and rowdy teenagers rubbed shoulders with pimps, prostitutes and paedophiles. We are in Europe after all; aren’t all big cities here like that?

Well let’s just say that Gothenburg was a pleasant surprise in that respect. It was indeed a large city, but even here it was easy to spot the lack of big city hustle and bustle. While I definitely saw more people in comparison to Ljungby (which, if you recall, is not much of an achievement) I didn’t feel the organised chaos that is usually associated with a busy metropolis. Don’t be fooled though, there’s only so much ‘zen’ that I can take, so it was almost with a sense of relief that I found myself caught in a few mid-day traffic jams.

And so the days went by; day 6 was spent mainly in sight seeing and visiting an old friend, following which our evening was taken up navigating through the furniture jungle of IKEA. For every man, IKEA is the store from hell; those of you who have tried to pick up a simple stool for the office will know what it feels like to go through the seemingly never-ending maze of ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ furniture. I use quotation marks for hip and cool not because I am growing old, but because I fail to see how furniture can be considered ‘cool’. The Foo Fighters are cool; bedside tables and kitchen counters are not. After spending roughly 3 hours dreaming of different ways to burn the place down, we had a quick dinner with some old friends we hadn’t seen in years and then headed back to our spacious and luxurious hotel for the night.

For day 7, we decided to get the proper tour of Gothenburg via the canals that run through the city. It is a very beautiful city, rich in a history that might have retained in the mind longer if we weren’t completely frozen solid during the tour. The tour led us out to the harbour to witness some of the naval land marks off the coast, but the temperature dropped severely when we left the relative warmth of the concrete buildings in the city. Frozen solid, we clambered into our car and decided the only way to get our blood flowing once again was to head to the famous amusement park, ‘Liseberg’.

As my brother and I stood in line for the tickets, we both has similar expressions of wariness on our faces. He was nervous because he’s a bit afraid of heights and the sight of the towering rides and the faint yet constant screams drifting from the park were a tad unnerving to say the least. As for me, I was a bit anxious about the fact that I was 23, and not exactly a kid. Would I look ridiculous standing in line here?

Well at least one of our fears was put to rest, and thankfully it was mine! It is a testament to the appeal of the park that I saw the widest age groups in the park, taking part in all the rides. First off we took a few minutes to view all the rides so as to decide which ones were worthy candidates for us to consider losing our lives on.

As I strapped myself into the first ride (which involved being shot vertically into the sky and then free falling back to earth), I started to wonder how parks like these can remain open throughout the year. Surely once you’ve gone on these rides once, you wouldn’t come back soon. Yet here we were on a weekday and the park was packed. After being shot up to 60 feet in roughly 1.5 seconds at an acceleration of, well, you do the math; let’s just say that I had other things on my mind.

After several gut wrenching and voice box destroying rides, as well as many broken promises to my brother (“Yea man, this is the last ride, definitely, we’re leaving after this, yes, sure, last one ooh what’s that….??”) we headed to the last and crowning ride of them all, the Balder rollercoaster. Standing in line with our last few tokens, I almost felt a twang of sympathy for my brother. This was really freaking him out. Naturally I did my best to steady his nerves, repeatedly drawing his attention to the extra safety instructions for this particular ride and wondering out loud why they were so worried. It was also the tallest wooden rollercoaster in Europe; the entire structure from supports to the track is made up entirely of wood. This interesting fact just provided more fuel to the fire, as I painstakingly pointed out the sizable cracks in the supports we passed and drew his attention to the loud creaking sound the beams made whenever the rollercoaster went screaming by.

You may think I’m sadistic and evil, but seriously, what is the purpose in creating these rides if not to scare the cash out of us? No species on Earth finds entertainment in scaring each other; that trait is unique to humans. (Along with laughing and crying and some other boring stuff, but who wants to talk about that??) What is it about humans that drive us in droves to horror movies and these bizarre amusement park rides? Why are we so taken by the smell of fear that we are willing to pay a sizable amount to other people to design even more mad-hatter type rides? We stand in line for hours itching to get onto some thrilling ride, and then during those 5 minutes we’d do anything to get OFF it!

Maybe there is some deep answer to this. Maybe we don’t really feel we’re alive until we face the fear of death. Maybe it’s all part of some primeval animal instinct inside of us, to see how afraid we can get. Or maybe it’s not that confusing at all. Maybe we just don’t know what to do with our money. Maybe we’re just dumb. I mean, we did invent bungee-jumping; something must be wrong with us to dream that up!

All I know is, as we slowly reach the peak of rollercoaster, and then suddenly start to go down the sheer near-vertical slope at near-as-makes-no-difference free fall, the look on my brother’s face shows a degree of fear, loathing (towards me) and incomprehension that I’ve never seen on his face in the 16 years I’ve known him.

And that is priceless.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Scandinavian Road Trip : Day 5 - 'Run for your life!'

For those of you who actually looked at the heading of this post and wondered what happened to the other posts, have no fear; this is indeed the third post of our Scandinavian road trip. As you may or may not recall, our last post left us in the quiet and unassuming town of Ljungby (pronounced Loo-ng-bee). Days 3 and 4 went by rather uneventfully, and on day 5 we rented a car and drove up to the city of Gothenburg.

After the 3 hour drive, we checked into our little motel; and when I say ‘little’, I definitely mean little. The Ibis Hotel on the Gothenburg highway near the city of Leerum is one of the most compact motel’s I’ve ever been in. It boasts of a single floor, and roughly 90 rooms. The reception to the hotel also doubles as the hotel restaurant, so the girl at one counter says “Welcome to the Ibis Hotel” and the girl at the next counter says “Sorry, we’re out of croissants”. The elevator to the first floor is not really an elevator; it’s actually a steel platform. In fact, the lift doesn’t have walls or even its own roof; once you reach the first floor, the roof above your head is actually the roof of the hotel. You could say it’s the convertible model of elevator. And as I said before, it’s actually just a steel platform; so there isn’t a button marked ‘1’ and ‘G’ on the lift, there is ‘Up’ and ‘Down’ which you need to HOLD down until you reach the floor.

And then we got to the rooms. By this time I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had compromised on the doors and sawed off half of it to replace with a curtain. Much to my disappointment, the entire door was still in place. However, step inside and you’d almost certainly find yourself to be mildly claustrophobic. Granted, there is a rather comfortable bed, but then I found out the little contraption hanging on top of the bed was supposed to be a bunk bed. Seriously, have I checked into kid’s camp? Is there a spare hammock in the bedside drawer? If I pay extra, do I get a tree house? Then there is the tiny bathroom (no surprise there) with the enormous door which, just to make things worse, opens outwards into the already almost non-existent space between the room door and the bed. This isn’t bad designing though; here the blame lies solely on the Scandinavian paranoia with regards to safety.

Upon arriving in the European Union, the most common sign I have seen has not been the “Elk crossing” sign or even the blue and yellow Swedish flag; it has been the little white and green sign showing a man running towards an open door. Emergency exits are essential to any building in Scandinavia, no matter its size. This means that hotels, office buildings, museums, airports, malls, toilets, even restaurants and pizzerias need to have an “Emergency Exit”, and also all doors must open outwards into the street, apparently to ease the frantic scramble for safety. I walked into a pizzeria one evening, a modest 10 person restaurant. In the seating area, the wall facing the street was made of three large French windows. Naturally, the owners had placed Mr. Quick-Getaway right above the windows. Now, if the pizza man really was so stupid to set his apron (and as a result, his restaurant) on fire, do you think the average person is going to look for a 7 x 3 inches sign hung above a window before making their escape? They’re going to bolt for the window or the entrance simply because there is no other option! Did the safety inspectors assume the average Scandinavian pizza eater is so brain damaged that he would seek shelter perhaps in the pizza oven? “Åargh, I’m ön fire, let me jůmp intö the furnåce whëre this conflågratiön began in the fïrst place, I’ll be såfe thëre”.

Such a concept would be near impossible to implement back home. To us, the term “Emergency exit” is solely linked to the vague little wave air hostess’ give during the in-flight safety demonstration. I have often wanted to ask them why the nearest exit to me is always behind me, irrespective of which row I sit in. I suspect the reason is selfish in nature; in case there is an emergency, I can imagine the ease in which the captain and crew can safely exit the plane, chuckling to themselves while the entire plane-load of passengers make a mad dash to get to the back of the plane in search of these mythical escape routes.

The little green man is not the only common sight in buildings, there is also a map on every floor explaining the layout of the floor, with directions to the nearest exits marked as well as a little red dot labelled “Hår år du”. Again, the same argument applies; we hardly ask for directions when we’re not on fire, so how is the smell of your burning backside supposed to motivate you to consult a map? Surely these signs are more of a hazard than a help; can you imagine the number of charred remains the fire -fighters would have found, all crumpled with their bony fingers scratching their skulls, right next to the place where a map once was?

But I suppose the worst was when we were travelling by car on the Gothenburg highway. At one point there is a 1.5km tunnel that stretches underneath a body of water. As we were descending the tunnel, I thought I saw a green blur on the wall. Convinced I must have imagined it, I ignored it; until I saw another one. And another one. Yes, it was my friend, He-Who-Runs-From-Fire. All the arrows were pointing further down the tunnel however, and not towards the surface. After close to twenty signs, we reached the mid-point of the tunnel, after which it once again rose surface-bound. At this point however there was a little door marked “exit”, leading into the wall.

I would have forced my dad to stop the car if we weren’t travelling at a 160km/h. How cool would it have been to have gone through that door? I mean, its not every day one gets to step into a submarine.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Scadinavian Road Trip: Day 2

For those of you who are actually counting, this is day 2 of our Scandinavian road trip. Yesterday we landed in Frankfurt, and took a connecting flight to Copenhagen. There we boarded a train which took us to Alvesta, which is in the southern region of Sweden. The flight from Frankfurt to Copenhagen was interesting; I was quite surprised to find a menu on the flight, despite being in economy class. However, much to my disappointment I discovered that I had to actually buy my food on the plane. ‘Welcome to Europe’ was the message they were trying to convey apparently. Entry into the EU is by no means a rosy affair; the first signboard you see when you hit the ground is the way out. After purchasing a rather expensive sandwich though, I had to hold my tongue; it was by far the best turkey sandwich I had ever eaten! Heck if they had this kind of food on our regular carriers back home, I’d stop wasting my money on tiny elephant trinkets for my friends and cash in on the in-flight menu cuisine!

Well, after the train ride, a taxi took us to the city of Ljungby. Never have I come across a town that was so quiet and peaceful. It’s the kind of town where pictures for postcards are taken; you know, the ones with the vegetable carts on the cobbled pavement, and old ladies on bicycles standing next to an old church, smiling into the camera with a blue sky in the background. If you asked a Swede to recommend a town that best represented Sweden as a whole, I doubt Ljungby would be high on the list. At first it seemed so insignificant and dull; we arrived on a Sunday, and the entire town was basically asleep all day. My brother and I stepped out for a brief stroll to see the sights; he got bored within the first 35 seconds. The fact that he has the attention span of an eight year old on a chocolate overdose is a different matter.

But this is the scary thing. I loved it! And I was really surprised that I did; I was under the impression that anyone who liked sleepy town’s like this needed to be either in their late 70’s and senile or middle aged and trying to escape from their wife. Seeing as I am neither, I tried to figure out what exactly I liked about this place.

The first thing that struck me was the obvious; the extraordinarily good looking Swedish girls. Here we are in this small town, and every single girl I’ve seen here has been model material, without exaggeration. And to top it all off, we happened to come during the summer time; no winter clothing now, if you know what I mean. Apparently the curse that has been hovering over my head all my life with regards to women is of the local variety and is confined to the sub-continent.

But after much careful thought, research and staring, I decided that despite the obvious mind-altering properties of the opposite sex here, they were not solely responsible for my strange attraction to this place. That did not stop me from continuing my research though. Yes, I’m quite the diligent little nerd when I’m properly motivated.

Perhaps the countryside then? Sweden must be roughly 50 times the size of Sri Lanka, and yet their population is half that of my tiny little island. The numbers are staggering; how can a country so large be home for so few people? As a result, Sweden is largely uncongested in every respect; the highway, the cities, all hassle free. We went for a long drive today and covered roughly 400kms, yet we never saw any signs of life except at the small townships on the way, and even then it was possible to pass through one without actually seeing a living being. It is a large contrast compared to life back home or in the Indian sub-continent, where a day that didn’t involve jostling and bumping into around a hundred people is considered out of the ordinary. We Asians are used to it, in fact throwing us into a city or town as quiet as Ljungby is the equivalent of sending a prisoner into solitary confinement; we’d probably emerge from it drooling and retarded.

But it wasn’t that either. The wonderful scenery and pleasant pollution free environment were just further plus points. The friendly people perhaps? But even though I was pleasantly surprised at how fluently the average person spoke in English, and their helpful and polite nature, I still didn’t think that was necessarily the reason I felt such an affinity to this place.

Maybe I’m just getting old after all? No, in my opinion it was the sense of peace one felt over here. For the first time in a long time, I found myself actually relaxed. There was no sense of impending doom, no terrorists in the news, no fears that travelling in a bus may end in a loud explosion and body parts everywhere. A man having a long beard and a name that started with ‘Mohammed’ didn’t automatically mean he was going to kill someone. Everything was organised, everything had its place. For example, people were not forced to buy parking tickets; they just felt obligated to do so because that was the law. Speed limits are adhered to with almost religious fervour. All these years I spent living in a world that was falling apart, and all the while the Swedes were going about their own lives unawares, literally ‘whistling while they worked’, quietly feasting on their rich foods, shovelling snow off their cars in winter and brushing dust off their bicycles in summer.

And there is something innately calming in that.

Scandinavian Road Trip: Day 1

Have you ever been in the situation where one of your friends, by pure chance, comes across either some minor celebrity or performs some rather unique feat, and then proceeds to tell then entire world about it? (“Dude, I’m standing with a supermodel! Who? Well, she’s Miss Afghanistan. 1996. Well, she was 2nd runner up. Screw you dude!”)

So it should come as no surprise if I say that I’m writing this blog entry at 38,000 feet. Yes, Darkside Daily is going global, baby; we’re on day 1 of our Scandinavian road trip.

Before you start conjuring up images of a group of sex-crazed 20-somethings on an alcohol and testosterone fuelled mission to have the time of their lives, let me just say that the person next to me is my mild-mannered, not-so-adventurous 16 year old brother. Hardly the sort of companion you’d expect on a road trip, but change the label to “family trip” and suddenly everything makes sense.

We will be taking a small tour of Sweden lasting roughly 11 days, counting the days taken for travelling. Our itinerary, or as much as I could figure out so far, is to fly to Frankfurt from Colombo, then catch a connecting flight to Copenhagen, where we take a train to enter Sweden. There a taxi is supposed to meet us and take us to the town of Ljungby, where my father’s business meeting is to be held.

It’s been a good eight hours into our flight to Frankfurt already, and I’m exhausted. Still, better to be exhausted and pampered in business class than to be exhausted and suffocated in economy, so I really shouldn’t complain. Business class; what a privilege! From the no-hassle check-in to the luxurious lounge with its assortment of free food (convincing my brother that this wasn’t an elaborate prank was just too hilarious: “We can eat anything?! As much as we want?! For FREE?!”) and the large electronically adjustable seats in the plane. Plus you actually get a menu to choose your meals, how cool is that? And though this is not a proven fact, and I’m sure all major airlines will publicly deny this, the air hostess’ in business class are a whole lot prettier than the others!

Which brings me to my point to ponder for the day; just how exclusive is business class anyway? Sure, the passengers that pay extra should get extra benefits, but isn’t there a small invisible line that shouldn’t be crossed? Take my air hostess beauty quotient for example; business class = 7.5/10, economy = 4.5/10. As for the choice of food, surely airlines can at least make an attempt at creativity by offering something a little beyond veg or non-veg. It’s bad enough you have to eat that rubbish; at least you should have some say in the poison they use, though I suppose the end result is a pointless as a condemned man choosing which blade to be beheaded with. Last but not least, what is with the curtain? Is it not enough that the 18 people of business class are separated from the rest of the passengers in every way, be it comfort levels, service and obviously affluence, that we have to then ‘curtain’ them off as well? I especially love the way they close the curtain with that little swift tug as if to say “Oh my goodness! Don’t peak! You are not worthy!”

In my opinion, this little curtain before the holy of holies should be done away with. Not for any reason of fair play and what not; I just feel that if economy passengers got more of a glimpse into the world of business class passengers, surely it would motivate them to at least consider travelling that way on their next trip! Can you imagine what an economy class passenger would do if just when he was about to dig into his ‘Non-veg surprise’, some ridiculously good looking air hostess sets down a plate of veal dipped in an exotic sauce, garnished and oozing fat and succulence just 5 rows in front of him?

He’d ask for a raise, that’s for sure.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Darkside Daily 2.0 : The Return

After an extremely long break, Darkside Daily is back. Yes, I must apologise for my long absence, but even jobless bloggers have a life that needs attention now and then. So it was with some relief I sat down at my computer today to type this new post. Did I miss much?

Well it seems I did; actually it depends on how you look at it. The last three weeks have been quite newsworthy in every respect. There’s the devastation in China, Sharon Stone’s extremely ill-timed ‘karma’ comments, the U.S. elections, the conclusion of the much publicised and highly lucrative Indian Premier League and the rumours regarding the birth of Brangelina’s twins.

Yet despite all this, I picked up a newspaper the other day that had somehow or the other managed to ignore all this and run a front page headline that read “Man dies of sexual asphyxia”.
What?! What does that even mean??

Apparently a German man working for an Indian company was found dead in his apartment. As shocking as that may be nothing could prepare you for the details surrounding his death. The victim was found half naked, without his pants, lying on his bed with albums of pornographic material scattered all around him. The official statement is that the man had saluted the flag a bit too patriotically, thus resulting in his untimely demise. The article then went into great and unnecessary detail describing sexual asphyxia, the act of reaching climax by strangulation and oxygen deprivation.

Are you kidding me?! No wonder they say fact is stranger than fiction; you can’t make stuff like this up!

We at Darkside Daily try to moderate our posts so as not to cause offense to any of our readers. (All three of ya’ll.) So instead of discussing disturbing sexual practices or inviting you to send in your entries for “Least Offensive Epitaph” for the above story, we have decided once again to delve into the movie industry.

Recently I was lucky enough to get to see the summer blockbuster “Iron Man”. “Iron Man” has done exceptionally well at the box-office, and it’s easy to see why. The movie stars Robert Downey Jr., an actor who is very much at home with roles involving wit and sarcasm, and blends a comic book hero with the real world almost seamlessly. It’s one of those movies that came out at exactly the right time; the world is very aware of weapons of mass destruction and terrorists (thank you, Mr.Bush) and the entire concept of Iron Man revolved around advanced technology, something that was portrayed in an exceedingly believable manner in the movie, thanks to the use of some very nifty CGI. Add to that the surprisingly good looking Gwyneth Paltrow (sorry, not a fan!) and a very cool soundtrack, and its easy to see why this movie has done so well. Another trick Hollywood has used in this instance is the magic of the sequel. No longer are directors and writers restricted by the 120-minute maximum duration that a movie can run; now its enough just to give a taste of what is to come and spread the entire weight of the story between three movies and label it a ‘trilogy’. “Iron Man” is one such example; the ending of the movie basically had ‘SEQUEL’ written all over it in big bold letters.

Now, I’m not against Hollywood’s newfound love for the sequel. I agree that there are some stories that cannot be told within the confines of a conventional movie. Some examples that come to mind are the Lord of The Rings trilogy and the Bourne trilogy. Despite being of different genres, both trilogies were true epics and could not have been told within three hours. Then of course there is the Star Wars saga, spanning six movies and close to 30 years as well. Somehow I never found it as engrossing as I had been led to believe it would be; maybe I’m just too young to appreciate the magic of creating a Star Wars movie in the 70’s.

But then there are the unnecessary sequels, the ones that are written solely to milk the success of the first movie and have no intention of creating anything new and fresh. Big Momma’s House 2? Seriously?! Van Wilder 2?! Dumb and Dumberer?! These movies are made for no other reason except to trick viewers into believing that they’ve created something as funny or as memorable as the first movie. That’s like gifting a nine-year old the same bicycle you gave him for his eighth birthday; except in a different colour.

Then there are the movies that were intended to be part of a trilogy but were just flat out failures. Yes, behind the production of these movies, someone actually had enough brains to say “No, even a deranged monkey would not want to watch another instalment of THAT movie!” Some examples that come to mind are Daredevil, The Hulk and Elektra. As you might have noticed, the comic book movie, or combo-movie is often associated with this category.

And finally, there are sequels that were made to resurrect the franchise. Of late there have been a lot of these, and at first I was extremely sceptical about them. For example, when I heard that Rocky Balboa was coming out, I almost laughed. The last time Sly had suited up to play Rocky he was wearing a silly black hat through the movie. It was a total disaster of a Rocky flick, and I never forgave him for it. Another such disaster was the fourth instalment of the Batman movies, the creatively titled ‘Batman and Robin’. I am an avid fan of the Dark Knight (hence the logo) and to me, watching Batman and Robin reminded me of the scene from “Hart’s War”, when the Germans found the radio that the American POW’s had painstakingly assembled, and then went on to destroy it in front of their faces. It was an extremely painful memory. Right about the time I heard about Rocky Balboa, someone told me that Die Hard 4.0 was coming out too. Seriously?! Bruce Willis refuses to die, AGAIN??

But time has shown that all three franchises ended extremely successfully. Rocky Balboa was an amazing rollercoaster ride of emotions, and is still one of my favourite movies. Die Hard 4.0 was extremely well done, and brought Bruce Willis enough fame and money to be enable him to date and dump a series of gorgeous models half his age. “Batman Begins” turned into one of the biggest blockbusters of the year, bringing back a franchise that was declared dead years ago, and also paving the way for the much anticipated “Dark Knight” which is due to release this July.

Yes, the world of movies is changing. Gone are the days when a movie was treated as an individual piece of art. Hollywood has evolved, and soon every movie will come with a standard sequel-option, wherein the ending of every movie will be either vague enough or inconclusive enough to support the production of a sequel, depending on its performance at the box-office. In a way it has become similar to TV shows, where every season ends with a cliff hanger, and depending on ratings the networks decide whether to continue with the series or just scrap it and make a reality show.

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