Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Well thank god that's over.

Yay, 2010 is nearly finished! Some of it was nice, but pokerwise it was bloody awful. Here's to a super awesome rungood hotstreak boomswitch of epic proportions all throughout 2011.

Needless to say the DTD £1k went badly. Had a pretty tough table of quite a few young internet guys who I knew or recognised and things just generally didn't go well. Also dumped £350 on a side event which I went vaguely deep in. It was a 6-max and I assumed it'd be teeming with internet kids eager to light-5bet the crap out of each other but it was actually incredibly soft. Can't do much about running kings into aces and then bricking 12 outs though.

SO. 2011 goals/resolutiony things:

- Get out of makeup, drop down and play small-midstakes (and hopefully upwards) on my own coin.
- Actually put some decent volume in. Aiming for 4-5 days/week average, and slightly longer sessions.
- Totally change my routine and play a 9am-6pm style day (!) except for weekends. This should help my general routine, sleeping patterns, attitude towards play, reduce variance due to smaller field sizes and it'll be more healthy socially.
- Exercise every day before showers. More activities, get back into jujitsu.
- Keep playing live events on a similar scale to last year, but play less terribly.
- Make some money.

Good luck at the tables everyone!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Gujarat, bits and bobs

So, I've come to the conclusion that 7,000 steps is quite a lot of steps. Neil and I's first stop was Junagadh where we climbed to the famous temples on top of a big hill. My calves hurt thanks to the same 7,000 steps on the way down (why isn't there ever a zip-wire down from these places?) but it was well worth it.

In other news, I crashed into a water buffalo. On the bumpy, dusty road to Simbor - a tiny village near Diu with a pristine beach, and friendly welcoming garamboard players, a buffalo burst out of the bushes, narrowly missing Ivan and Tanika on the bike in front and straight into my path. Luckily we weren't going too quickly so the collision wasn't too major, but even so I went straight into its body and the bike and I fell. Glad we weren't traveling faster - they're huge beasts, pretty sure I would've come off worse. So that was exciting!

Next up on the Gujarat tour was Porbandar - birth place of Gandhi - which was nice, if unremarkable. I recently read his semi-autobiographical book didn't endear him to me. Obviously he did some amazing things politically, but the book focuses on his spiritual and religious life and he does some stuff that's just... well ridiculous religious superstition with no basis or explanation. Some stuff that's painfully close to Jehovah's Witnesses type behaviour. As an example, he denies his son food (chicken soup and milk) that may save his life during severe illness against all the advice of the doctors, saying the God will take him if it's the right time (perhaps one of the most idiotic things its possible to say - why bother trying to cure an illness at all? In fact, why bother eating or sleeping - God'll see you right if you believe hard enough. ARGH!). Hypocritically, he takes milk himself later in his life in a fight against illness, fully aware he was breaking spiritual vows. He spends a long time talking about the virtue of practices like celibacy without actually explaining why they're good things, he just makes comments like 'and I came to realise how important living a simple life/being vegetarian/being celibate/practicing mystery god-worshiping act 'X' is to be closer to God'. Meh, the book just made me angry almost every time I picked it up, got about 3/4 of the way through and couldn't stomach the rest.

Now I'm in Bhuj, and lovely little city that sadly was devastated by an earthquake, killing 15,000 people - 10% of its inhabitants. Whilst the people are friendly and some of the buildings are impressive, it has an air of faded grace with crumbling ruins of the large mahals dotted around and rubbish collecting in huge quantities. Still, the city is on the mend and many of the temples may yet be returned to their former glory. The area around Bhuj is filled with smaller villages famous for their craftwork, so I hired a bike and zoomed around a few, the nicest being Mandvi where I spent some time on a lovely beach and finally got around to buying some Christmas presents...

Ramble time!

I struck a small girl in the face today. It was an accident, and it wasn't hard - I was just shrugging off her hand as she clung to my shirt and asked for money, but still hard not to feel guilty. I guess I'm writing about this because it reflects the wider guilt you feel repeatedly - daily - denying cute, skinny children money. And the guilt is why it works, and why they do it. Or, more accurately, why they're made to do it by the organisers of the local beggars who often starve or even mutilate the children to evoke sympathy and then pocket the money to buy a second car or a new watch.

And I suppose the reason I'm writing about that - zoom out again - is, well; India can be a hard country to be in. Because, for all its beauty, its rich and diverse cultural traditions and its good-natured people, India is a country that simply doesn't work. In the 60-odd years since independence from the British India has failed, and is continuing to fail (although of course the Brits involvement had and still has a lot to do with this). Personally I believe there isn't a country or political/organisational system that does 'work' (that I know of) but India is so far from even just getting by that seeing the chaos, the levels of poverty and misery or the standards of hygiene and infrastructure can be tough. I mean, half of the country's billion plus inhabitants are practically slaves - being born in India is a life sentence of servitude and often abuse for almost all women (example: '51% of Indian men say wife beating is justified, 54% women agree, especially when dinner is burned or they leave home without husband's permission' - this boggles my mind and pretty much makes me think we're all doomed). Then there are the lower castes, such as the 'untouchables' (so-called for a reason - literally not touched by other castes), who frequently have their rights and liberties taken away, despite the supposed abolishment of the caste system.

I could go on but I suppose the point is that whilst it has many positive qualities, India seems to present humanities' ugliness in a very stark way. The corruption and greed, the exploitation of the weak, desperate or unfortunate, the predation, the violence, the selfishness, the cruelty and the indifference to it all - it's all here, in spades.

As for why I'm writing about that, well, I guess just to let readers know its not all fun and games; only some of the time do you get to enjoy the delights of conjunctivitis or crashing into buffalo. The rest of the time it can get kinda heavy.

Well I fly back in a few days. Seems a shame to finish on a sombre tone so I'll add that I've had an awesome time! Almost entirely illness free, far easier socially, very little stress, lots of fun and adventure. Already semi-planning my trip back here next year; going to fly to Mumbai and finally see the south, and maybe head on to SE Asia. Anyways, hope my ramblings haven't bored any of you to death. The next post will be about POKER, hopefully retelling my victory of the DTD 1k next week.

That's all, folks.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Ruminations on Spirituality, The Meta-physical and Belief

Warning: Long, no pictures.

Disclaimer: I don't really know much about this subject, so there may be mistakes in my representations of certain beliefs/theories. Either way I'm waaaay under-qualified to write about this subject in any authoritative way. Enjoy!

Wherever you go in India, you seem to be bombarded by issues of the religious, the spiritual and the meta-physical. Be it yoga, meditation, LSD, Hinduism, reiki or chakras, spiritual experience and advice abound.

A year ago I wrote this regarding drug-induced 'spiritual experiences':

'I find it interesting that, when spirituality is involved, people's values can change so easily. A huge amount is down to personal experience of course - A Canadian girl and an American guy I met (both intelligent and lucid) both claimed to have had profound, 'eye-opening' experiences having taken acid. Both mentioned feelings of things like universal energy, and more significantly that this was real, not drug-induced ramblings - when they were sober their view on the world had changed. It didn't seem ridiculous or hilarious the next day like other drug experiences might, but it made sense. A wince from me I'm afraid. A lot of what they do, the choices they make, how they live their lives is based on an experience they had whilst on LSD? I've not taken LSD so I suppose I can't comment in full, but the idea that, rather than simply changing the way your mind or body works (as drugs do by definition), a synthetic chemical can actually make the scales fall from your eyes and reveal the world as it really is seems very unlikely to me. Perhaps I'm just a grumpy skeptic.'

In Varanasi I met a friendly, intelligent and frighteningly well-read Norwegian with a keen interest in the meta-physical, who gave me some audio-books by various authors who are fairly well known in the field (Ram Dass/Timothy Leary/Robert Anton Wilson/Watts). Although my reaction to these talks were mixed, it at least made me see where I was missing the point when talking to the American and the Canadian.

Rather than 'showing you the truth', the belief is that these drugs alter your consciousness - alter the way you perceive the world. So far so good. The next step is a little harder to swallow for some; that reaching these different levels of consciousness allow you greater freedom of understanding. Understanding, for example, that we have a collective consciousness, that we're all connected, that our perception of reality is just one of many. That consciousness isn't fixed to the body, or even to mortality. I'm not explaining it well (mainly because I don't understand it well) but they are all main points. This is the understanding the Buddha achieved when he became enlightened; he achieved access to all levels of consciousness, and was connected with all things. These ideas have been around for thousands of years, in various religions, spiritual practices and belief systems but key points seem to resonate.

The claim about psychedelics then, is that they bring you to another state of consciousness - rather than study yoga (for example), psychedelics proved a temporary shortcut. Not to enlightenment perhaps, but to some other 'level'. There's a reoccurring storyline associated with these 'acid prophets' - they began by having 'mystical experiences' due to LSD or psilocybin, experimenting with these or other mind-altering substances, realising their limitations (you always have to come down at the end), and progressing to some spiritual practise - Yoga or Buddhism for example. Many of them were massively intelligent people - Ram Dass is a famous case; a rich, well educated American in an 'upwardly mobile middle class Jewish family', lecturer at Havard, etcetc, all uprooted in the search for the 'truth', for spiritual awareness and conscious flexibility.

I find a lot of this very interesting. In a way it all seems like another religion to me. Of course I think it's inherently much less damaging (if it is at all) than most other organised religions/belief systems, and more specifically the destructive, dogmatic religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism). Having said this, it certainly has a lot of similarities, and the way in which the ideas are presented does not help them in that respect. Several of the sources I've seen share many similarities with religious propaganda, and others are simply presented in a way which make these ideas seems very desirable. Which is ironic, since the loss of desire is heavily related to most of these belief systems. The idea that 'you shouldn't change anything after hearing this - things will change themselves', 'you shouldn't adopt these practises because you feel you ought', that 'you shouldn't believe what I'm saying - look into it yourself', etcetc crop up fairly frequently, but I feel these ideas are juxtaposed with the method of presentation.

Again, Ram Dass is a good example. The first half of his talk 'Be Here Now' is a very entertaining account of his journey to India, and he himself is funny, likable and seems genuine. The second half reminded me of Zeitgeist (which should be seen if only to see just how poorly made, badly written and downright brainwashy an 'informational' film can be); airy pseudo-science brushing over huge revelations about the way he claims the universe works. Or maintaining that you should just carry on living your life, it's of no consequence whether you adopt these beliefs, if you're 'meant' to practice them it will happen anyway - whilst simultaneously making them seem very desirable indeed; mentioning sexual pleasure, unimaginable happiness, utter truth.

Alf, the Norwegian, came to his defense somewhat, mentioning the intended audience when it came to the 'dumbing down' of the sciencey parts, and his large following requesting words of wisdom, which explains why he held the talks in the first place. Still, I found the discrepancies interesting.

One difficulty for me is that so many of the terms used are heavily loaded. Spirituality, energy, life force, whatever - to the average westerner they sound, well, like new-age hippie-freak talk. It makes it difficult for people to make intelligent, reasoned claims without sounding all ethereal and crazy. Things like the Zeitgeist film are the reason - there's all awful lot of bollocks out there that attaches itself to these ideas, contaminating them and making it hard to wade through the gibberish. It can leave a bitter taste in my mouth however well written and presented it is, which is a shame because most belief systems have something to offer; advice or observation, even just a representation of human psychology and behaviour on a grand scale. Another problem is that these ideas tend to get lumped together - as I have done here. I'm sure there are many followers of Jungian psychology who would read this and despair that his theory of collective consciousness would be mentioned in the same sphere of belief as chakras and universal energy.

The basic problem I have with the whole thing is this: I can't accept the claims made (Ram dass' guru could apparently tell the future, knew everything, there are people that people claim to never eat or drink; living off prana, etcetc) without some kind of reason to believe in them. Proof, I suppose, or plausible scientific explanations. Having said that, I honestly believe that there are people who honestly believe this stuff. And fine, there will always be an exploitative contingent in any belief system (especially one so undefined and manipulable) but if there are intelligent people who really do believe in these things... well, why do they?

It seems to me that there are three possibilities. It's true, they think it's true but it's false, and they know it's false but sell it for personal gain. (You could argue that the fourth option is that they know it's false but they give it away for the greater gain - that these beliefs make people happy/they promote views of 'loving kindness' so the lie is for the greater good. Seems unlikely to me.) I've already mentioned that there are obviously people exploiting these views for personal gain, that much is not in doubt. But I also maintain that some people really think what they're selling (or giving away in a lot of cases - Ram Dass is not a wealthy man at all despite selling millions of books; he sold them for 7c each) is the absolute truth.

I feel like this is the human reaction to life that is apparent in the manifestation of religion. The craving, that overwhelming need to find meaning that leads to faith, of whatever kind. For me, at least to some degree, all established belief systems are a result, reaction to and attempted cure of human misery. Like belief in God, I feel like a belief in such meta-physical ideas would be incredibly comforting. I sometime wonder how awesome it would be to believe there's a big man in the sky looking out for Cheesies. I don't, and very much doubt I ever will, but I can see the appeal. Equally, believing we're all connected, that death is simply a different state of being, that our consciousness is not attached to our bodies - I mean, that's pretty cool, no?! So sometimes I come to the conclusion that these people are subconsciously embracing the delusion, as with the religious (apologies to any religious readers!), to make themselves happy, to ground themselves, to give their life meaning. And perhaps taking acid makes your brain do somersaults in a totally benign way, and some people fit these somersaults into a belief system because it's more comforting to think that rather than to simply think your brain can make you see and feel weird shit, but you're still alone and your existence is pointless and full of suffering.

But then I think of the incredible claims; the more empirical side of things. I read an article last year about a hospital that took in a religious man in India who claimed not to have eaten in 80 years. They kept him in for weeks, monitored him closely - his intake, his bodily functions, his vitals, etc. He didn't eat or drink, he didn't go to the toilet, he didn't get sick, or thinner, his vitals were all normal. Reading it in a newspaper isn't adequate evidence for me, but these and similar claims are fairly widespread (especially in the East) and getting more common. Many people say that we are very close to, for example, providing a plausible scientific explanation for the collective consciousness theory.

On the other side of the coin, then, I find it hard to believe that there is some kind of mass mental block, or mental illness, or brainwashing or something that explains all these claims (and by claims I mean the 'miracles' - mass faith is a whole lot easier to explain than lots of people believing they themselves don't eat). But it's either that, or they actually happened and continue to happen, or these people simply don't exist/believe at all, and it's all one unimaginably huge scam by absolutely everyone in the business, which seems ludicrous. Well, all the options seem sort of ludicrous.

I think things like alien abduction figures, continued attendance of seances and fortune telling or the 'miracles' in faith healing show some insight into the type of human behavioral phenomena that explain mass belief in these things (if they're false) - a return to the idea of the intrinsic need to believe, a response to desperation. Or maybe scientific breakthroughs and thorough research might shed some serious light on the way the universe works and how we perceive reality in the near future. For now though, I'll be staying a skeptic until something better comes along.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Long overdiu

Sorry for all the Diu puns, but frankly it's just so easy I can't resist.

Ok, picture the scene: You could see the storm before it hit. You heard the rain approach, just metres away. And then - BAM - you're soaked in seconds; thick, angry, biting rain like a swarm of bees in the dark. You are, perhaps, not entirely sober. Blinded by horizontal spray, you wobble your way up and over the church dome and then down the slippery, eccentrically spaced steps towards your room. As you step inside the first thing you feel is the two inches of water sloshing at your feet. Slamming the door shut, you stand there, swaying slightly, breathing hard. You're drenched, the rain is pouring in - over, under and through the door and through the open window - it's pitch black, the power's out and you have no torch.

Right, you think, now what?

A) Calmly but inefficiently grope around for your camera, use the screen as a torch, plug all leaks and go to bed. Turn to page 53

B) Use 5th level spell 'Watershift', then drink The Elixir of Sao Tome Retiro. Turn to page 21

C) Scream hysterically and run around in circles until help arrives. Turn to page 14

Hm, went a bit 80's-fantasy-book themed there. But they were incredible, no? Interactive books! Civilisation may never see such innovation again.

Anyway, storms - 2 of them. Well technically one storm thing and one confirmed cyclone. People here say it's the first time they've ever seen rain here in November, and there's been a lot of it. To be honest though, it's mostly been brilliant sunshine, days on the beach, gorgeous food and great company. But time to move on! Been here a month, which is pretty ridiculous even for me considering how little I've been doing. Heading around Gujarat for the few weeks I've got left, to Junagadh at the end of the week with Neil, and leaving at the same time as Ivan, Tanika and Yaron - a friendly bunch who've been sucked into the Diu vortex like me and been staying at the church for the last few weeks. End of an era!

Since this is a short post I might as well add a bit of poker talk - think I'll be playing the DTD 1k on December 17th. I get back on the 16th in the evening, so I might be pretty tired but so long as I'm not ill I'll be ok to play. Seems a little eager but it's the only decent live tournament left this year and I have a craving to play some live games. Should be a fun one; a decent structure - 30k stacks, 60-75 minute levels - so lots of room to mess around!

Anyways, just checking in, nothing much has been happening to be honest. In the best possible way, of course.


PAGE 14 - Your screaming wakes the neighbours who shout at you. You spend the night crouched, shivering in the corner getting wet. YOU LOSE.

PAGE 21 - You forget to open the door before casting the spell so the water just splashes around a little, and the elixir gives you a headache. YOU LOSE.

PAGE 53 - The sound of rain on the metal roof lulls you into a deep sleep; you wake refreshed and have an omelette for breakfast. CONGRATULATIONS!

Hope you chose wisely...

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Fair Dius....

After doing some standard touristy things in Delhi, such as bumping into cool people from Bath that I met in Varanasi (only, what, 12-14 million people in Delhi? Pretty likely really) and being attacked by small children, I got my train to Ahmedabad.

There's something I really enjoy about the actual act of travelling. Sure it can be stressful - missed flights, delayed trains, psychotic bus drivers - but just watching the world go by can be immensely... satisfying somehow.

Take the Ahmedabad-Diu trip - I woke about an hour before we arrived. And, all passing by in fleeting seconds: thousands of steel tubes, big enough to walk through, hundreds of metres long in an enormous field; an entire school of uniformed children doing star jumps to the beat of a gigantic drum; intricately detailed psychedelic Enfield-rickshaw hybrids roaring past; a large ring of men dancing to an audience. Cows, oxen and buffalo pulling carts, pigs and hogs snuffling in the debris. The old man lying on the street with nothing but bones and a beard.

No reliving it, no going back to visit, no phone numbers, no emails addresses, no photos, no names. Just image after image washing past, rolling out of reach. But in a good way. Life going on.

Well that was pretty wiffley and airy fairy, back to reality. Brief review of Ahmedabad: I kinda liked it but I have no idea why. There was nothing to do, or see, no other travellers to socialise with and the place smelt funny. But I still sort of liked it - the casual confidence that is characteristic of Indians has settled upon the place in a type of airy, easy grace. Not a place I'd want to spend much time in though.

Anyways, now I'm in Diu, and it is FRIGGIN' AWESOME. It's a tiny island less than 10 miles across that was under Portuguese rule until '61, and it really shows. The Indo-Mediterranean vibe is bizarre, and lovely. Perhaps it's just that it's an oasis in the desert of chaos that is India, but it seems like a mini paradise - after nearly 2 weeks in Delhi anyhow.

I'm staying at the top of an old church that you can scramble around and explore, my view every morning is brilliant sun shining on a scattering of eccentrically multicoloured Mediterranean-style houses, the odd church, some palm trees, and then the Arabian sea. It's sunny and hot every day but with a nice ocean breeze, there are sandy, empty beaches and the sea is warm. It's quiet, barely any people, no touts, no rickshaws, no cars, no horns, no rubbish. Beer is very cheap and plentiful. They even take siestas here. Basically, if the church I'm staying in had wifi - nothing personal guys, but I wouldn't be coming back.

My daily routine at the moment is: wake up mid-morning, have breakfast somewhere, trundle along on the bike I've hired to a beach, swim and read in the sun, trundle along again to a nice restaurant, eat some awesome food, trundle some more, maybe explore the island a bit, trundle home, drink 60p beers and eat freshly caught shark (gorgeous), then pass out in the wee hours after talking a lot of nonsense usually with a nice/interesting group of people. Rinse and repeat.

Talking of the people one meets - one of the brilliant things about hitch-hiking is that you tend to meet a glorious mix of the great and the eccentric (such as the Polish guy in Belgium who hadn't slept in 48 hrs, had a penchant for going the wrong way around roundabouts or skipping red lights - both at once on one memorable occasion - and fell asleep doing 120 km/hr on a motorway). Backpacking - especially in a place like India - although not quite so polarised, is similar. Meeting relaxed, friendly people that I genuinely enjoy spending time with is, if not common, at least a lot less rare than average. Also, the number of... 'interesting characters' you meet rises dramatically, which can vary from entertaining to frightening.

Take a fellow guest house resident; a smiley, down-to-earth, beer-loving Jordie in her late 30s. Or so I thought - last night she told me, in no uncertain terms, that she was an angel. 'I am God. I am here to save humanity.'

Delusions of grandeur, anyone? They were drunken ramblings perhaps (well, no perhaps about it actually) but still, I'd need something significantly stronger than beer to make me think I'm God. She was literally yelling 'Shut the FUCK UP, I don't care what any of you think, you're all inferior, I'm a celestial being.' Shouting at people mid-conversation to proclaim she was The Saviour. Certainly an interesting evening.

I think I had a point when I started writing about that but I've forgotten what it was, so I'll just leave you with some words spoken by Guillaume, a really nice French guy who was staying here in Diu the last week or so. Imagine the thick French accent.

"I am not religious, I do not believe in God but life, life is... is fucking strange, non?

Friday, 17 September 2010

Varanasi and The Games

I arrive in Varanasi slightly dazed from the 12hr train ride and find lodgings at the Shanti Guest House. Not easily, I hasten to add - it's down near the ghats; the steps down to the Ganges used for a variety of activities, from washing and bathing to burning the dead. Shanti GH is near Manikarnika Ghat, the biggest of the cremation ghats, and getting there requires navigation through a labyrinth of markets and side streets that are teaming with cockroaches, touts, stray dogs, cows and shops; littered with rubbish, paan splotches, various animals' crap and an ominous, viscous black sludge that slides down the gutters. Corpses pass by on the streets, carried on stretchers by small, chanting processions.

After a much needed shower I head to the rooftop restaurant. The view is incredible and the atmosphere charged - great boulders of thunder roll over the Ganges and around the ghats, eyes stinging from the pyres' smoke. I go for a wander around the backstreets and see some of the ghats. Then I'm directed to a music shop and school by a friendly drug dealer ('I sell everything'), and end up taking a tabla lesson right there and then, and book a bunch more.

Munshi Ghat

The Jolly Music House is run by the genial Jolly, who seems to spend most of his time sitting drinking chai, getting jolly, and generally smiling a lot. He also has a nice turn of phrase and puts things in ways that only non-native English speakers can, and we have some interesting conversations. Also play a few times with him and my teacher Om, in which I'm hilariously out-drummed but that are fun nonetheless.

It's a very Indian city, and despite the superficial reservations it's easy to have about the place, it has a great atmosphere and I like it here, as do most visitors. After a few weeks of pleasant sameyness, I head back to Delhi to catch some of the madness that is The Commonwealth Games.

Rant time! The metro system in Delhi during The Games would've been better organised had it been designed by a one-year-old going nuts with some crayons. At the entrance to the New Delhi metro station, there's ONE body scanner and ONE bag scanner. This is one of the busiest metro stations in Delhi, next to the biggest and busiest train station, and the way into the city from the airport. And the hundreds of thousands who use the metro daily are let in one at a time. I just saw (and promptly left) a queue about 300m long and 4 people wide - so perhaps 2000 people - and the queue was getting longer. One at a time. The incompetence involved in designing such a system is staggering. Then there's the free metro tickets that come with the event tickets. Each one has a code that has to be manually recorded every time you enter or exit the metro station. So come the end of an event - thousands of people trying to get home - not only are they let in or out one at a time, but everyone's shouting numbers and thrusting tickets slips all over the place, one guy frantically trying to write down long strings of numbers in a huge ledger. Complete mayhem. I can't fathom how anyone in the world, ever, would think this was a good idea. Or even a vaguely passable idea.

Ok, rant over. In comparison to the other methods of city travel it's actually a pretty good service (or at least a much needed one), despite all its faults - it's just that seeing a system that a moderately intelligent monkey could improve upon annoys the hell out of me.

The Games themselves are great (again, the infrastructural elements are woefully inadequate and under prepared, but I'll refrain from more ranting) and the events that have Indian competitors inevitably lead to the crowd going completely bonkers which can be very entertaining.

I'd meant to head to Mumbai next, but the trains are booked up for weeks in advance, so instead I book a ticket to Ahmedabad, and intend to head to Diu. It's a seaside resort-type town on the southern tip of the Gujarat peninsula, and I figure possibly a nice base to head off for some biking around the bulbous coastline. Looks like my plan to head down the western coast and end up in Kerala may not come off as planned. But plans in India are made to be broken it seems...

Sunday, 12 September 2010

From the top.

We get into Delhi after an 8-hour plane ride (on which I get NO sleep). I'm amazed at the airport; it's all changed massively in the 6 months since I was here last. The Commonwealth Games are here next month and it's clear they've spent some serious money preparing - all shiny marble and perfume shops. The taxi ride into Delhi is striking as well, construction everywhere you look. I ask our taxi driver if it'll be done in time for the games, he laughs and shakes his head.

We wander around Paharganj (the backpacker area I'm familiar with), dump our bags at a guesthouse and grab some tasty samosas on the street. This is also undergoing major renovation - about a metre has been ripped off the front of the buildings on either side in order to make the street wider.

A rickshaw ride later and we're in the Chandi Chowk - a big network of markets near the Jama Masjid. I'd heard of a mystical, heavenly street that just sells paranthes of various shapes and sizes where you can choose any filling (image all the things you could put in a paranthe! peppers... peas... cashew nuts...!) called Gali Paranthe Wali (the lane of fried bread). So we went on a mission to find it, did eventually and had a fantastic aloo paranthe. Shame I didn't know the Hindi for cashew nuts.

At this point I'm an absolute wreck from lack of sleep, so we relax in a cafe and hide from a thunderstorm before heading to the station to get our train to Haridwar. I'm out cold for the whole ride (my dad doesn't fare so well) and we have chai and share a rickshaw with a friendly German to Rishikesh (which I describe in my blog from last year).

We find Enfields to hire pretty easily, from Ranjeet Motorcycles (recommended!) which is actually the place I bought my bike last year. If he remembers me and my... clumsiness last year he doesn't show it. Quite a few shop/cafe owners remember me though which is nice - one remembers both my name and what drink I'd order ('Ah, Mr Ben! Lemon tea?') which I'm mightily impressed by.

Oh if only I had a handlebar mustache.

We decide we'd like to head up to Joshimath, towards Hem Kund and The Valley of Flowers, where I actually went with Tyler and Gribb last year. So, after a few days rest, we set off from Rishikesh and have a great day's riding. A few scary patches, but mostly fine, and some nice sun. We also see many incredible road signs, my favourite being 'Driving and drink: a fetal combination'. Drink driving as a method of conception? Interesting...

That night it absolutely pours down, and after a few kilometres the next day we reach a few major landslides. We sit in front of the first, eyeing it up, when an Indian biker with a passenger rides up and sails through, as though the huge rocks and foot-thick mud were nothing. Fine, we think, we're just being wusses. After bumping around like crazy and getting stuck a few times we manage to get across and stop at a chai stall - by which time the guys in front returns saying the way forward is totally blocked. It's safe to say they weren't exaggerating.

Since we can't head onwards to Joshimath we decide to head back in case the road home is slow too. Turns out to be completely blocked. The next three days go pretty much in the same vein. Every day we get up early, get about 10km down the road, get confronted by ridiculous landslides; navigate our way through one to be met by a bigger one a few minutes later. Some of the things the locals are doing are truly staggering though - basically carrying entire bikes over huge mounds of slippery mud or zooming along foot-wide paths of mud and running water, both just a few feet away from hundred metre drops... Wish I had my camera handy!

Many bikers got through this, and it wasn't the worst by a long way.

It's getting to the point where we're not sure if we'll be back in time for my dad to get the train back to Delhi and catch his plane, but luckily by the fourth day the roads are pretty well cleared, and we bomb back to Rishikesh, the 'scary' parts of the first day barely registering in comparison to the landslides further into the mountains. Pretty dusty though.

The Masked Banditos

Just time for a bit of shopping and a nice hike into the hills (where I get attacked by one of the supposedly docile white monkeys) before heading back to Delhi.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

2010 roundup, plans

Soooo, I'm done for the year. I haven't actually quite updated my spreadsheets yet, but I think it's going to end up something like breakeven on my own coin, and about in about $5k of makeup, over maybe 500hrs and 6 months. I've been much worse about keeping records of the live stuff, but I'm guessing roughly breakeven there too, maybe down a little.

So, fairly disappointing. I was playing well for large parts of it, probably the best I ever have, although there were definitely times where I let the downswing get to me; -$35k at one point, so about 400buyins over maybe 2000 games. Fairly unpleasant. Luckily I had a nice score recently which helped wipe out most of my makeup: Bink. Then last weekend I got coolered for the chiplead with 15 left in The Sunday Million (and I don't capitalise lightly), which was pretty crushing, but reassuring after a bad spell (for those who don't know, The Million is the biggest weekly tournament online, 1st being ~$250k. Coming 15/8000 players and breaking even on the day is pretty devastating considering that my place in the tournament was worth maybe $70k in equity - in effect, I lost $70k in one hand). Finally, my coach Matt LaGarde, after looking over the hand history of the 320 score, said he didn't have a lot of advice, and was impressed with how I played. I think being told by mlagoo that I play pretty well is a major achievement!

So all positive signs. Shame I don't have any money really. The 28k score didn't get me out of makeup so I didn't see any of it, (despite my mum suggesting I could pocket a few $k of it for myself! shocking) and The Million was stupid and evil. Even a 9th would mean I actually made some money, y'know, for food and stuff. Oh well, it was probably the last tournament I'll play this year, as next week I'm going away. For the best I think, I doubt I'd be playing well, at least for a little while.

Which leads me to the next bit - I'm off to India again. Yay! Going motorbiking with my dad for a few weeks in the same area I was biking last year (I'm far far more prepared for the biking, hopefully no more crashes to write about...), then he's heading home and I'm off down south along the coast. Pretty excited, getting itchy feet here, in need of a break/change of scenery. I'll be turning this back into a travel blog for the next 3 months, so come look at purty pictures and read about me almost dying in a myriad of strange ways.

Sooo... that's about it, back a week or two before christmas. Might get a few sessions in then, but I'm pretty much calling 2010 closed for business. I'm distantly looking forward to getting back to it next year; assuming I can earn some moolah there are some fun trips lined up - PCA, vegas for the WSOP, probably some EPTs, and obviously the GUKPTs and UKIPTs again. But before then I'm definitely in need of some space.

Bring on the curry and motorbikes.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Live games

I had a live cash! I made a day 2! I made a day 3! I MADE A FINAL TABLE!!

So the past month or so has been mainly live games for me. All have been great fun, and I've met a lot of people that I know through forums and stuff which has been awesome. Back in June was the UKIPT Killarney. It was a €1k event, and I hoped I would be sensible and do good here. Unfortunately I got my fancy-pants syndrome again, and ended up turning QQ into a bluff on a T-high board against a range that was {AA,KK}. It was actually an interesting spot, and I think it would work against the right player, but I need to remind myself that the average live player doesn't fold, and they really really don't fold aces or kings. So that got me short and I lost a flip or something.

Played some cash, lost a €800 pot to a 1 outer on the river, that was fun. Then played the €500 side. Played pretty good, made a few spewy plays early on, but luckily they worked out this time (floated a small CR from aggressive russian dude with A5dd on 24K one diamond, binked the 3 on the turn and stacked QK) and managed to make my first day 2. Came back, made a few nice calls, generally just chipped up slowly, then went a bit card/spot dead and made the final table as the shortstack.

The final played soooo slooowwwlly, we we're 8 handed for several hours. Eventually people started busting, and I managed to win a flip QQ>AK (after an A flopped too, Q on the river!). I was the only one doing any raising really, and was just collecting everyone's blinds. Knocked out a few shorties to take us to 3-handed, and I had a nice chiplead. Then QQ < A5 (to get HU with a huge chiplead) and JT < Q5 on 9TQ and I'm done. boooo! Still, was a nice cash and felt great to get the monkey off my back.

Went down to brighton feeling good. Despite being very hungover I had a great day 1, ran good, played ok, and ended the day 2nd in chips. Made just the 1 spewy play, 4bet shoving QKs over a 3bet from a young guy who had aces... I got there. I'm getting better though, finding more patience... Day 2 went well too, with me being chipleader for large parts of it, I was playing well and just gradually collecting chips. Unfortunately I lost a few large pots towards the end of the day, and ended up coming back with 13th left on day 3 with about 20bbs. Made a few slight mistakes to start with (r/folding button vs an aggro guy in BB with KTo and 20bb) and ended up jamming 15x with qjs over a CO open. He thought for a bit before calling with AQo, and I can't get there despite the 9Tx flop. Oh well, gg me. Kinda frustrating to come so close to the £65k for first and not win, but still, 13th aint bad I guess. All positive signs. Congrats to Andy Youens (AKA 'clunged') for coming 7th!

Got the sheffield £500 summer series this weekend, then GUKPT luton the weekend after that, then UKIPT edinburgh the weekend after that. Hopefully the run/play good will continue!

Monday, 21 June 2010

lol juneaments

Soooo, been a quiet month really. Went up to sheffield a few times, once for SUSOP - the annual sheffield student poker tournament. £50, usually gets about 40-50 people, a good laugh. Standard was pretty hilarious. The game was open to anyone, so there were quite a few casino regulars giving free poker lessons, raise/folding with 8bbs and tutting when people moved allin pre. I bubbled, which lead to a chorus of smirks and smug comments after I'd declined to agree to pay out the entire final table (they were suggesting paying 10 out of 44!). Oh well.

I actually did pretty good out of the weekend though, made a few hundred playing 10p/20p (/40p/80p/1.60/3.20....) with my poker mates up there, and won every single flip for drinks and food; won 3 meals and a large number of drinks, so worked out a pretty cheap weekend. Thanks guys! :)

Went up again the next weekend for Peace in the Park, a mini-festival which is always fun. Nice music, sun shining, sitting on the grass. All good. Then was Peace After Dark which is the unofficial rave in the peaks afterwards which was great fun too.

Aaaanyways, so all this means I haven't played much this month. Played half a dozen sessions I guess, was breakeven until yesterday, which was the worst sunday EVER. The worst of all the sundays. Played 60, had about 3 mincashes. So I'm basically taking the rest of the month off. Got UKIPT Killarney in a few days which will be great, Dan Dave Luke and Steve will be there for some pokery drinkery funtimes, and I feel like I might actually be able to stop myself spewing all over the place in the main event. Maybe. Another good thing is that a lot of the UK based sickos will be in vegas so should be even softer than normal which is nice.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

May roundup

March continued in a similar vein to the rest of the year, and by the 14th I was up to $35k in makeup. Luckily we had a family holiday planned in Greece for a week, which was just was I needed. Spent the time reading books in the sun and floating about on boats in the med, very nice, very little to do. Barely thought about poker once, which is unusual for me!

Came back ready to play, and I started binking. Think every session I played in the week days after was a winning one, and I had 2 $6-7k scores. Made ~$17k, bringing makeup down to $18k, which is seeming more manageable now. Didn't play as much as april because of the week off.

Hours: 76
Results: +$9k

Apart from a luckbox, the other thing I brought back from Greece was a different sleeping pattern - started having siestas every day now. Quite nice as it lets me wake up at a vaguely civilised time (11-12ish) and actually see some of the day. I need to remember not to play poker unless I've had one though, I'm usually too tired.

Hope you all run good in May! (though not when you're at my table obviously)

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

April Results

Sooo April didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped. I mean, in some ways it was awesome because of the two scores I had online whilst at the Irish Open - I had 100% of myself in them and personally I made $12.8k on the month. Which is obviously great - that puts me a little bit in the black for 2010. However I'm also in $27k of makeup (about -300 buyins). My backer now has all of my action as well, so basically that means I have to earn 27k before I actually get to see any money. Which could take a while. Because I made money personally that's not a huge deal right now thankfully, but if this downswing continues I could be in a spot of bother...

Ftops went pretty poorly, didn't really make many runs. Scoop so far has gone very annoyingly, had several deep runs and big stacks only to lose in very frustrating ways. The only solace I can take is that my backer has railed me deep in a few mtts and seen some horrible suckouts in 10-18th, etc so hopefully he knows I'm not just spewing his money away!

Did the DTD 300 a few days ago - went pretty standardly. I 3bet pre oop in the first level with 68s and fired 3 barrels. I even brought a book to stop me doing crap like that!!! Luckily I r/red the straight - oooops. After that I buried my nose in my book and nitted up, actually worked quite well for a few hours, but then I couldn't resist 4bet shoving 88 and forgot live players always have aces. Congrats to my mate Dan who came 4th though. He has much patience and crushes live imo.

Anyways, there's a bunch of scooooops left, scoopscoop! So I'll just scoop one of those and all will be well.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Cognitive Dissonance and Poker

So in one of my insomniac wanderings of the internet, I started reading some stuff on cognitive science, and more specifically Cognitive Dissonance. For those who don't want to read it, simply put, it's about easing internal conflict. One example is the old sour grapes fable - the fox can't reach the grapes, and so concludes the grapes are probably sour anyway. The conflict of wanting the grapes but not being able to get them leads to the rationalisation that he doesn't want them, thereby making him feel better.

As with most things, I thought about how it applies to poker - and I think it does in a big big way. Think about it - how many times have you recklessly fired the 3rd shell, got called and thought 'Man, what an idiot, how can he call there'. Or made a fancy move which didn't work but rationalised that it was good because the guy played the hand weird and normally it would work great. Maybe it's just me (!) but I think it happens to most players, and I think a lot of players use these rationalisations a lot to make themselves feel better - often about their bad play.

Say you make a calldown in a spot where you're vaguely aware that he probably has it, but you haven't mentally set in stone that this type of situation is a fold - so you just press the call button (certainly happens to me a lot...). There is huge dissonance here - you're supposed to be a thinking, intelligent poker player, you're aware he usually has you, but you pay him off anyway. This internal conflict, this contradiction is unpleasant to you, so you rationalise it. You think 'He could've had the busted flush draw' or 'he probably isn't good enough to value bet top pair here'. You focus on the few times you've seen people show up with air here, even though it's far less common than when they have you beat, and decide the call was probably fine, you just got unlucky to run into a hand. This means you'll continue to make the same mistake, until you address the problem and actually stop calling in these spots.

The idea of lying to yourself isn't exactly new, but I think being aware that it's an inherent human trait, and not simply some vague thing 'that some people do' can really help to identify when you're just trying to make yourself feel better. Earlier today I made a pretty bad call with a flush on a paired board where it was pretty much never good, and rationalised it by thinking about players from years and years ago who could show up with weaker flushes in this spot. I knew it was a bad call, but I sort of decided it was more of a cooler since maybe he can have lower flushes, maybe a straight... and I sort of pushed it from my mind. Then I decided discussing the hand was probably a good idea, and my coach verbally slapped some sense into me!

So, that's the lesson for today kids. Be aware when your mind is simply trying to placate you - ignoring or rationalising your mistakes away or blaming them on others is easier, but it wont make you a better player.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

March roundup, April showers...

So... march didn't go too well. Played a little less than february, and with no results to speak of really.

Sessions: 9
Hours: 77
Results: -$2.3k

DTD was fun but losing. Was starting to get a little down over the lack of results etc, but figured going to Ireland for the Irish Open would be a nice get away. 3.5k main event started of brilliantly. Had a very soft table, was playing well, feeling great. Got up to 30k (from 10k) within 4 hours, pretty much a dream start. 90 minutes later I was bust. Not quite sure how to be honest. Made 1 bad multi-street bluff that was just FPS, and 2 marginal/possibly bad calldowns that cost me a bit. Few coolers. Lost a flip. Still a lot of work to do on my live game I think. I just can't stop myself playing hands!

So anyways, was feeling pretty sorry for myself, lost a bunch trying to sat into EPT San Remo where some friends are playing (to no avail) and lost some playing live cash. Decided just to grind online instead... a good choice it turns out. Saturday night I binked the FT 50/50 for $8.7k, and tonight just finished the obligatory sunday session, coming 2nd in the FT $59 superturbo for a little under $10k. weee! Also, just done my spreadsheets and the score tonight FINALLY gets me over the $100k lifetime profit mark. Been hovering around it for bloomin' ages, nice to cross it.

So I'm in a good mood. Going to play the 330 bounty event tomorrow, think it's the last event in the Irish Open schedule, should be fun. Hope this weekend bodes well for the rest of April!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

February roundup

Weird month. The downswing continued until my live games, where I lost money too. Ended up nearly going bust online down to about $2-3k or so, which really sucked, and I was starting to worry a little financially. I mean, things weren't getting desperate or anything, I just didn't have any spare cash to redeposit (other than savings which I wasn't going to dip in to) so I'd have had to drop down to $10-26mtts and nothing higher. Thankfully a mate of mine offered to stake me for a while. We joked that his money runs good so I'll be off the stake in no time - obviously within 3 sessions I make him $10k! Had my biggest ever score, a little over $15k for a stars $162 win, and a few other smaller scores.

So I have a roll again, although I'm still being backed for most of the stuff I'm playing - I have my action at the lower buyins. Going to stay on the stake for a little while I think, less pressure = happy cheesies. I'm still not in the black for 2010 yet, down a few $k overall, but feb results were much much better than I expected a week ago.

Sessions: 13
Hours: 102.5
Results: +$4.6k

Monday, 1 March 2010

Live pokerament trip report

The DTD £300 lasted all of 45 mins. Was feeling really good about this tournament, had a soft table, was playing well, for the 45 minutes I lasted anyway. Obligatory bustout hand: A few limpers to me at 50/100, I check BB with Q4s. Flop comes 442ss. I c/c a pot bet from anonymous live player #1. Turn is a blankish card, an offsuit 9 or something. I c/r his pot bet to 4kish, he raises to 10k (with ~2k back). I actually consider folding as it's live, but then I remember I have teh tripz and shove it in his face. He sigh-calls and flips A5ss, and obviously gets there. So that's fun, I end up playing cash for most of the rest of the weekend (the £165 on the sunday goes fairly similarly) and actually do really well at 1/2 nlhe. Unfortunately my friend Dave persuades me to play some drunken 1/2 omaha, obviously I lose a £2k pot to him (he runs waaaay too good) middle set < flush draw, to put me down a few hundred for the trip. Fun though.

Spend a few days in Sheffield which was great, though I'm starting to feel a little tired after 4-5 days of late nights and drinking. We turn up for the £500 UKIPT Manchester on the wednesday as there is a PS party/free bar (I'm not playing until friday so I get a lie-in!) which is fun, though my liver is groaning. We hear recent EPT winner Jake Cody is having a party nearby, so we tag along and there's free champagne flowing like orange juice, all very jolly. Then we go back to the casino for some poker (obviously a fantastic idea)... I think I won some money? I'm not sure. Next day Dave and Dan are groaning about having to get up for the tournament that starts at 2pm - I lie in bed. Score. I head down for cash in the evening, although it's so full there aren't any free tables at all and all the waiting lists are full, so me and Dave end up heading back to the hotel and playing online. I break even, he crushes some more HU PLO. Dan's still in the tournament, and ends the day amongst the top stacks.

I get up the next day to play my starting day, and feel pretty rubbish. I get an ok starting table, a few scandis (one very stereotypical - 'straddles' every utg, playing a bunch of pots. he busts pretty quickly after a few rough coolers), a few standard live nits, teddy sherringham in seat 4, a few youngish guys who seem ok. I end up playing pretty badly all in all, trying to force things. I get that a lot playing live I think, I want to play every hand and end up seeing J8s in Mp1 and considering it a mandatory open - using 'it's live!' as an excuse to spew. Anyways, so I kind of hover around starting for a while, but things start going down hill, and I lose a bunch of pots in sucky spots. Finally I get it in 99 < AKo, whatever.

I played a £100 side event that evening, win a last longer bet vs dave and dan, but bust before the money. We play a bit of omaha, where I lose some more money (I'm never playing live PLO again) but I win it back and more at nlhe. Me and dan head back earlyish and leave dave omahaing it up at £5/5, as Dan plays day 2 of the ME the next day, and I feel like crap. Dave comes in at 8am or so, after losing an £xk pot (8k I think?) after getting it in with top set + 2nd nut FD and losing to the nut FD. Sigh.

Dan leaves early the next day, we sleep until the evening. I play the £300 side event, dave goes out drinking, dan plays his day 2. The 300 goes a little better than the others, I'm playing better, but generally get ridiculously card dead and short, and end up busting standardly. Dan busts too, mincashing for 1k (we have 5% in each other for the main event so weee £50!). Dave comes back and there's generally more drinking and pokering going on. Me and dan take it in turns playing dave HU on the HU poker machine for £50/game, and end up busting him which is pretty funny (I don't think he won a single game) and so he obviously goes and withdraws £3k, throwing £1k on black as he walks past the roulette wheel. Drunken gambling for the win...? It comes in of course, because he runs good. He then makes a no-pit games rule, and if we ever see him playing a pit game ever again he has to give us both £100.

Anyway, long and the short of it, we sit at some 1/2nlhe, play stupidly and and annoy all the regulars, Dave loses after calling allin for several hundred with 53o, and leaves to get his train, me and dan play until 12pm the next day (18hours playing for me, 22 or something for him) I win a bunch, I think dan lost some. Next day me and dan turn up and play some 5/5 for a while, it goes very badly to start with for me, but I win a few hands and leave breakeven, and I get the 5am train back to bristol for some much needed sleep.

Think lost about £1.5k on the trip, but it was great fun. I also realised that I need to play more straightforwardly in tournaments, more live nlhe cash, and that I should never, ever play PLO.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Jan roundup

A spectacularly bad start. Fun! I'm pleased with a few things though, I've been putting in a lot of volume this week, and watching a lot of training videos. I also think I've been playing ok - not great, I definitely still have leaks, but it's getting better session by session. Also, I've had a pretty good mindset despite running horribly, haven't been getting down or wasting the end of sessions because I'm in a bad mood.

Sessions: 6
Hours: 52
Results: -$7.9k

I have an average buyin of ~$80 at the moment, so a nice 100 buyin downswing to start things off. Pretty much halved my online roll so I've been cutting things bit by bit, the amazingly soft ipoker 50r was the first to go, then 30rs on FT. Playing up to 100FOs and 20rs for now. Could use some rungood! Really don't want to have to drop down too drastically.

Going to play a few days this week, then off to nottingham for DTD, spending a few days in sheffield visiting people (and hopefully going crazy in a cash game or two) and then manchester for the UKIPT. Really looking forward to some live poker, hopefully I'll run a little better in real life.

Here's to a better Feb!

Friday, 22 January 2010


(People looking for my last India blog post should scroll down - it's just boring pokery stuff up here)

Soooo! It's time to grind. I have a huge motivation to play right now (5 months off will do that!) and have some stuff worked out. Firstly here are my goals for 2010, copied from pfu:


Play 30hrs/week minimum. 4 online sessions+ preferably, but if lots of live play then slightly less is ok.

Get a coach. Maybe only 5-10hrs or so, will see.

Renew CR subscription.

Spend 5hrs/week minimum studying my game/watching CR vids/viewing HH replays etc.

Reach an av. buyin of $100.

Stop getting down/tilting during sessions that start badly, or when you bust from the biggest/deepest tournament you have left. It's stupid and damaging. EVERY TOURNAMENT MATTERS.


Play every DTD deepstack/UKIPT 500 I can.

Sat into 2 other GUKPT/UKIPT events.

Make day 2 of a multiday event (would be a first...)

Sat into the WSOP ME (I'm 21! wooo)


Treat poker more like a job. Keep putting in decent volume whether doing well or badly, have a better mindset whilst playing.

Related ^^ Get a good routine going. Go for a jog before playing/make a nice meal/make sure I'm fresh and will play well.

Get the standard of my actual play near the level of my theoretical play. Sounds silly, but there's a fairly large gap. This may involve playing less tables online.

Make more than '09.

Keep up other activities (jujitsu, badminton), maybe take some language classes, guitar lessons. Poker isn't everything.

Mainly hoping to treat it all a little more seriously. Going to be playing a lot more live - with the monthly £330 deepstacks at DTD and £1-1.5k GUKPT and UKIPT tours (plus side events) there should be enough to keep me going! Plus I won an Irish Open seat again this year so I have that to look forward to in April.

Starting with a smaller roll of about $10-12k; withdrew a lot before leaving last year and it's needed for other things (rent/live bankroll/food etc)so just going to be grinding midstakes, and not buying into many sunday majors for a month or two, unless I bink something sizeable.

Played 2 sessions so far, 1 light sunday where I bricked everything (obviously) and just played awfully. I was ill and tired, shouldn't have played at all - lost $2.5k or so. Then I played a session yesterday which went much better, had 3 final tables including a small win, ending up about $1k up overall. Mainly was just playing well which made me happy, was worried after sunday I'd forgotten how to play! Made a few mistakes in key hands, including one horrible hand to bust in 4th in a 30r which paid 5.4k to first, so that was fairly costly - but I know what I did wrong, and feel confident I can play well and plug my leaks.

Double guarantees week on tilt means I'm going to play every day I think. I've always run good on tilt, this week would be a great time to continue doing so...

Friday, 15 January 2010

Dharamsala and onwards

It's pretty cold in Dharamsala, and for the first week or 2 I don't really meet anyone. I end up staying indoors a lot and begin feeling the miserable, wintery haze that I've come to India to avoid. Thankfully I meet some nice people at the Rogpa cafe - run by volunteers with proceeds helping to support Tibetan single mothers in Dharamsala. I end up helping out there a while, and teaching a little English to a local Tibetan girl. I also find a very nice cafe called the Heart Rock, run by permanently chilled-out local Ran, and end up spending most evenings there - it tends to attract a nice, if sometimes slightly odd, crowd. (For example, English trust-fund Bradley attendee with a craaazy posh English + Austrian accent who lived in Mongolia with nomadic horsemen for 9 months and was prone to extreme and spontaneous mood swings. Or the Indian guy who danced his socks off on his own in the corner all night, often impersonating animals. His 'spider' dance was my favourite)

After a month or so of not doing much but having a nice time, I head to Amritsar with quiet-but-lovely American couple Lexi and Chris. The main attraction here is The Golden Temple, Sikhism's most impressive and significant Gudwara. Apart from the beauty and elegance of the temple itself, the sense of community is astounding. The free kitchen, open to all, feeds upwards of 60,000 a day. No restrictions on religions, race, class, gender. Come in, sit down, eat. And the attitude of it all is something that touches me - it's not a big significant thing to help out. You come in, wash a few dishes if you want, leave. Like it's something normal, not out of the ordinary (there's a lot of self-righteous back-patting in the volunteering community) it all makes me feel a little more positive about the human condition. Plus they have a chipati machine that makes 24,000/hour - WAY COOL!

We also head to the Pakistan-India border for the closing ceremony. At first they get all the girls up and dancing to some bangra, amid loud, patriotic chanting.

Next, the guards stamp around aggressively, looking hard. It's a strange atmosphere, like a sports game; good-natured competition. But the tension between the two countries is far greater than that, and I find it a little odd. It's pretty fun though!

After the few days there, the Americans and I go our separate ways. I have to go back to Mcleod Ganj - I need to think about my bike. I'd decided to sell the bike on reaching Mcleod, but moping about followed by having fun has lead to me conveniently forgetting about it. I put up a few posters here and there, and get some responses. The 2nd guy I show it to is a friendly Austrian and he buys it after having a ride around. There are a few problems over the next few days, but a trip to the mechanic sorts it out (30rupees! 37p for an hour long once over of a motorbike - I love India!). Hopefully he's somewhere on the road on the way sown south - he was planning to go the whole length of the Subcontinent, arriving in Kerala. Good luck to him...

After selling it I'm aware of a massive release of tension - the bike had been keeping me there somewhat. I'm freeee! Some other awesome people I've met, Leo and Sophie, are heading to Jaisalmer for a camel safari over Christmas. Yes please! Sophie's already there with her friend Orion, so me and Leo start the long journey from northern Himachal Pradesh to western Rajasthan.

The camel safari is great to start with. I mean, the novelty of riding a camel is enough! But after an hour or two I start feeling very sick. I end up walking behind, and start throwing up/going to the toilet frequently. The group is in front out of sight by this point, and the guy with my camel has gotten impatient and walked on too. Suddenly I find myself totally alone, in a desert in the midday heat, delirious with illness in a fair amount of pain. Then I realise I don't know which way I'm going. I spend a few minutes looking around, and decide on the most likely direction - thankfully it was. Could've been interesting otherwise...

I end up getting a lift back from the camp that night, although not without seeing an awesome sunset:

and a shooting star, that broke off into TWO MORE SHOOTING STARS! So that made me feel a little better. I spend most of christmas day in bed. In fact the only xmas reference is one man who wishes me Merry Christmas, but then tries to sell me bedsheets.

After Leo, Sophie and Orion return from the safari, we head to Bikaner, mainly to see the rat temple. If one runs over your feet it's good luck!

After that everyone heads off in different directions - I go to Jodpur. It's a lovely place, lots of tiny winding streets and a nice atmosphere. I stay in a tent on the roof of a guest house. A lovely view to wake up to in the morning:

View from the fort:

Next is Udaipur, 'the Venice of India'. Another nice town, and some fantastic scenery from the many rooftop restaurants. The palace was used in the Bond film 'Octopussy' and is suitably grand - you get a nice view of it on a boat ride of the lake. I do a cookery course here too, so I can now make all sorts of tasty indian food! In theory at least...

Next stop on the Rajasthan tour is Bundi, a small, sleepy, rural town. The palace overlooking the town is huge, dilapidated, and labyrinthine. I spend a while tottering up broken steps and peering through dark alleys - it's so refreshing coming from the UK where everything that could possibly be seen as dangerous or even just broken or dirty is closed off. I see some local Indians walking along ridiculously high castle walls like stepping stones. My last day here is the Bundi Kite Festival - a day where everyone flies kites on the their roofs. It's really really difficult! I lose about a dozen kites and cut my hand several times, although towards the end of the day I can keep the bloody thing in the air for a few minutes at least.

That evening I leave for Agra and the Taj Mahal. I had some reservations about going, but everyone I spoke to said yes, it's dirty, smelly, noisy, there's tons of obnoxious tourists and shameless touts, but you simply have to do it, the Taj is worth it. And I'm glad I did.

Finally it was back to Delhi. As with most people I was a little phased by Delhi, but I find it totally normal now, and have a good look around, before catching my flight HOME.

Which is where am I now. Everything's so quiet! Where are the cows? The buffalo? The people peeing in the gutters, the rickshaws, the noise, the sewage, the rubbish, the people asking me questions? The awesome street food and stalls crammed together like jigsaws? The saris and shawls, the dogs and dhabas? I'm going to miss it all.

...though some things more than others!