Sunday, September 30, 2007

Karachi Photos

I only had a very short time to see some sights but here is a selection.

Firstly fishermen off Clifton Beach - the name one of many clues to the passage of the English through this historic land. The beach was almost totally deserted as it was Ramadan, but I'm told in the evening it gets packed with Iftar picnickers.

And where you have fishermen you must have nets that must be mended.

Nearby is the sailing centre complete with its two dinghies, launching ramp and flag poles, which as noted is right next door to a rubbish tip:

Also nearby is the 1400 year old Ziarat to the Sufi Abdullah Shah Ghazi, patron saint of Karachi and great-grandson to the Prophet Muhammad.

All around Karachi you could see these colourful buses:

And on the subject of travel, this is the City Railway station:

And here is a train full of very patient passengers: it was meant to leave at 2.30pm and was still sitting there at 5 pm: it was clearly going to be a tough journey. Some of the boxes on the platform to the right were clearly marked as coming from the port of Felixstowe.

Its a part of the world with a fascinating history and was sorry to not to see, hear, and discover more. The BBC has recently shown a great series of the history of Pakistan and India, and clips can be found here.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Karachi Security

I took the Independent to read on the flight to Karachi thinking an article about Angelina Jolie surely must distract me in a good way. Big mistake - as it described the background to her latest film, A Mighty Heart, which is all about the kidnap and murder of an American reporter in Pakistan.

No worries, I thought, he must have gone into the wild northern territories. But no - he was kidnapped and killed in Karachi, his body found in the city's outskirts.

Karachi is not an easy city to visit - in the flight there (and also back) I was the only westerner, and except for a few Americans at the hotel I saw no other during my stay. You have to be prepared to be stared at a lot.

The west is not that popular - traditionally Pakistan's number one enemy was India: recently this has changed, and now the USA is hated more.

Politics are in a state of flux, with President Musharraf in power after a military led coup (though elections are planned early in October) and despite that - or maybe because of it - fully supported by the USA.

He has become increasingly unpopular - to the extent that Bin Laden is now more popular than Washington's man.

Karachi has a history of violence and the Marriott I stayed in has suffered a number of car bombs. So to get in all cars must be searched by armed guards and visitors must pass through a metal detector at the front door.

So how safe is Karachi? There was one attempted suicide bombing during my stay near the Karachi Club which was about a block away. Maybe that's why Angelina never went to Karachi - the security fears meant her scenes were shot (in a film sense) in neighbouring India.

I wasn't too surprised to find that the driver my local fixer had arranged was armed "just in case". And on visiting the client's second office in a rather run down and to be honest rather dodgy part of the city we were met and escorted the last mile by an army jeep.

But ultimately when travelling to these places you are not relying on guns but on the people - I trusted my local agents and the driver they hired on my behalf.

Its a country on the edge in many ways - and it felt more risky than my trip in 2004, when Musharraf was much more popular.

I had a long think about this one day when in bed with a lurgy - but my conclusions might be controversial to some readers - something I've tried to avoid on this blog. So I'll leave those for another day.

But to conclude - the people I met, and knew from previous trips and meetings, my agent, his Karachi representative and family, the client and his team, were all very welcoming and helpful, and I hope they remain safe in what looks like being a turbulent time in Pakistan's history.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is a really rich city. Some of those 2 million barrels of oil a day have been used to build what must be the world's most expensive hotel - the Dhs 14 billion (about 2 billion pounds) Emirates Palace.

But it's hard to feel at home here. Outside the heat and humidity chokes all life from the soulless streets, while indoors the bone cold air conditioning no doubt encouraged the bug that has lain me low all week.

It's not a place that practices low emission living - energy and water are consumed as if global warming were just a dream. Which is a shame as it could lead the world by planting its deserts with solar power stations to become the first CO2 neutral country.

The bit I liked best was the old Dhow harbour (above). Here a whole fleet of old wooden boats were moored and their crews did chores like mending nets (below). Apparently they go as far as Bangladesh in what must be epic journeys.

Though they have a sail they are mostly motor powered - and you might have seen Michael Palin in one when he went around the world in 80 days.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Back Again

It's good to be back after a tough business trip to Karachi - you can see a dusty sunset over the central area above. Full of impressions from the experience so more on this latter.

But no, didn't get to go sailing in the end.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Not Sailing in Karachi

Ok so had to try to get a sail here in Karachi.

Today dropped in on the National Sailing Centre and met the Secretary General of the Pakistan Sailing Federation. Commander (R) Q Navaid Usmani was very welcoming and tried his hardest to help, but alas I hadn't given him much warning (none actually) and it was Ramadan (so people were tired and many things were closed), and worst of all it was low tide.

It was the last that did it. We walked out to admire their Enterprise, ready on its trailer to go into the nearby "boating basin", but alas the water was so low "you could wade across it".

As well as sailing in Enterprise he was also a keen Laser sailing and nearly got into the national Olympic team coming second in try outs in the seventies. That must have been so frustrating!

Their sailing lake is next door (literally) to a dump that smolders continually while children dig for scrap to sell: the water is not surprisingly polluted. It put Tillerman's complaints on bad sailing clubs into context!

I wish there was someway to help but how? Its not like you could buy and donate a second hand Laser from (there is no such site). And there are so many other problems here. I'll ask my local agent for some advice, but what do you think?

So instead did a tour of the beach, visited a Ziarat of a revered Sufi saint and the old railway station.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Off again

Tillerman has asked about our best boating location. Thats a tricky one as not only have I not found the perfect place but not sure its possible.

I like the Hamble a lot but remember rather too clearly when the shower block we were meant to use broke down (ok, so we just crashed our way into the other one).

I like Cascais but remember also the pounding music that kept us awake.

Maybe continuing the bad-posts-are-good theme I should ask which boating locations you think are the worst.

Ok, admit to feeling a bit grumpy this morning as having to go on a business trip I don't want to - to the UAE and Pakistan.

Would much rather be going to this

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Holy Eco-boat Batman!

I took the river bus again home, which was fun, like this (only more fun, this was a slow bit):

Up by Chelsea Harbour saw what looked like Batman's speed boat: This was Earthrace - in London for the Thames Festival (which very very unfortunately I will miss due to a business trip). As you can read here, she is a biofuel powered boat designed to race around the world. While this sounds very eco friendly, I am very skeptical about current biofuels. They rely too much on primary crops such as grain or palm which dramatically increases humanity's need for land, leading to huge habit loss and likelihood of wide scale extinction (as described here).

If you want an eco-friendly race around the world there is really only one answer - use a sail!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bird Watching Sunday

Sunday I had to work on an assignment on financial risk, so there was of course lots of gazing out of the window dreaming of better things I could be doing, and I kept on being distracted by these birds (*).

First up was the mother and family above. I have no idea what they are but the mum almost stepped on one of the youngsters and she was very noisy making a honking sort of sounds to keep them in line.

Next there were this diving black bird - a coot? Once it dived and the water was calm so you could clearly see the wave expanding from the point it disappeared. Then it reappeared outside the ring - so it was swimming faster than the wave was travelling.

Then I watched a swan: it was directly below so could see its feet under the water and they seemed to be going half the rate expected. What it actually was doing was left foot - pause - right foot - pause - etc so each leg was only doing every other push.

Finally there was this elegant bird from the M&S Oakham range which made a very nice dinner for me and two friends who came over for dinner:

(*) tut tut, did you think non-ornithological thoughts? Ok, there was this rowing boat with eight pretty young women, but, er, anyhow, yes, what was my point?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Weekend Plans

What are your weekend plans?

What I would like to do is:
- go for a run or a swim
- look for some side tables for my flat
- go for a bike ride along the Thames Path, maybe finding some blackberries
- explore the local sailing clubs so can go afloat like in the picture above
- having friends or family round for a meal

What I will actually be doing is:
- having a meeting with a business adviser to go through some spreadsheets
- answering questions on forex, futures, and risk for my OU course

Actually its not all bad as doing one of the first list - having friends round for dinner Sunday evening, roast chicken with all the trimmings on the menu.

And its a lot better than next weekend, when have to do a business trip have been putting off for many months. But trying not to think about that yet!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Communting on the river

I have been challenged by Turinas of Messing About in Sailboats that I can't reach 10 different boating experiences by the end of the year, the loser to give money to charity (and no doubt buy the first drinks at the Dukes Head). You're on - sounds like a win-win scenario!

In the mean time I have had a really great boating experience but don't think it will qualify for those remaining slots as all I had to do was turn up and pay up. Yesterday I had two meetings in town and the timing was just right to take the river bus (above) in the morning and then back again in the evening.

It was so fun - a lovely late summer day, blue skies, and a gentle breeze. Its quick and takes you straight into the center, with the best views of London and its sights from Westminster, the Wheel, to St. Pauls and the Tates.

And there's a wonderful feeling of informality with boats. So at Chelsea Harbour we left and came back for some stragglers who were seen running down the jetty - you don't ever see the 8.12 to Croydon reverse down the tracks at Clapham Junction for late comers! And the rushing tide and rough and ready approach of the crew means more than a little banging and bumping. All good fun!

This morning I did it again even though strictly it meant going slightly out of my way.

Its just a shame that tomorrow like so most mornings I'll be back on the trains.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Messing about...

Yesterday did a bit more messing about in a boat, and a different type, for a went back to Cambridge for the day to go punting with old college friends.

Punting is very relaxing while you're just lying there watching the river drift by (as above). It's a lot harder work when you're doing it, especially when the wet summer has made the river bottom especially muddy, so the pole sticks firm and you have the choice of getting wet or letting go of the pole (hint: do the latter!).

Even if there hasn't been much sailing this year there has been a bit of variety:
- America's Cup Class (Sydney)
- Laser (Turkey)
- Topper (Turkey)
- Hobie (Turkey)
- Gibsea 33 (Turkey)
- Inflatable dinghy with outboard (Brittany)
- Punt (Cambridge)

I haven't given up hope on extending this list as there's still 4 months of the year left!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Highest Tide

There was a spring tide last night, with a predicted range a rather impressive 6.7m at London Bridge according to the tide tables at the Port of London Authority. That's three days after the full moon for those that are keeping an eye on the sky.

Coincidently I have just finished a novel called "The Highest Tide" about a boy growing up around the bays of the Puget Sound. I really enjoyed it and wished I was either back at Ti Al Lannec (where I started it) and could potter around the rock pools or even back in the Straits of Juan de Fuca where I went whale watching a few years ago.

Then I realised I should just look a bit more locally - such as out the window. Here I saw sea birds washing, drying, and eating, a range of flotsam and jetsam, and a green border of algae I hadn't seen before:

I should pop out there and have a closer look as would Miles, the young hero of The Highest Tide.

Alas my afternoon chore is to read Open University course B821 Unit 9: Credit, Liquidity, and Operational Risk.