26/11: Five Years later

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I distinctly remember the moment when I found out about the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. It was my sophomore year at Colby College, and one of my Government professors pulled me aside before class and told me that there had been a terrorist attack in Mumbai, and that I should check on my family. I only had extended family in Mumbai, and a quick call to my mother confirmed that they were all fine. I was never that attached to the city. I had only visited Mumbai twice before, and my impressions were mostly colored by Bollywood and Suketu Mehta’s brilliant book, Maximum City. But, even though I was across the world in a parochial New England town that had fewer people than most Indian apartment buildings, I remember being absolutely distraught while following the events over the next 48 hours; a ragtag band of 10 Pakistani gunmen had brought an entire nation to its knees, killing more than 160 people, injuring more than 300, and holding off the Indian forces for over 60 hours in downtown Mumbai.

Five years later, the mastermind of the attacks, Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba’s chief, Hafiz Saeed still walks free in Lahore, Pakistan despite a USD 10 Million bounty on his head, the Indian government still has done no significant post-mortem on the attacks despite every politician’s annual elegies, and the Pakistani foreign ministers, including Rabbani Khar, have the gall to say that India should move on. It is in this context that Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy wrote ‘The Siege: 68 Hours Inside the Taj‘, a meticulously detailed account of the attacks, from the origin of the terrorists in Pakistani Punjab to the sheer incompetence of the Indian forces.

Reading The Siege was excruciating. It was deeply saddening, blood-pressure raising, and totally engrossing at the same time. It narrates the attack from the perspective of the guests, chefs, and workers at The Taj, from the security forces involved in the counter-terrorist operations and also has narratives from the terrorists themselves obtained through phone intercepts during the siege. It also provides impressive background on the lives of Ajmal Kasab (the lone terrorist captured alive – executed in 2012) and David Coleman Headley (the Pakistani-American CIA/LeT double agent who conducted surveillance in Mumbai for LeT – currently in prison in the US). While the language is flawed (trite, wordy and awkward) and the action, often, too difficult to follow, Clark and Levy humanize the conflict.  The heroism of the hotel staff, the brutality of the terrorists, the sheer, utter ineptitude of Indian forces ranging from systematic intelligence failures preceding the attack to the incompetence of Mumbai Police Commissioner Hasan Gafoor to the dithering bureaucratic failures at the Home ministry (it took over 10 hours to get the counter-terrorist commandos from New Delhi to Mumbai though the force was ready to fly to Mumbai within 20 minutes of the first gunshot) really sticks with you, making your blood boil and curdle.

But most importantly, the book asks the important question – what has been done? The short answer – nothing. LeT remains active in Pakistan and Indian cities remain as vulnerable as before. There is no evidence to prove that this tragedy forced the Indian government to completely re-tool its security and counter-terrorism strategies. Many ill-conceived ideas, like the National Counter Terrorism Center, remain just that – foolish and ineffective. Thankfully, there has been no attacks on that scale since, and perhaps that is a sign that something that was done is working. Although, I think you’d really have to be a fool to believe that; Indian authorities, meanwhile, will continue to fail its citizens.

 

 

Best of Sachin Tributes

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Sachin Tendulkar retired from international cricket last week. It was a sad, teary moment for for Indians around the world who grew up watching the ‘little master’  grow into arguably the best cricketer in the history of the sport. In a nation chronically affected by its insecurity, he was a ray of confidence. For people not familiar with him, “Think Michael Jordan, but bigger. Think Wayne Gretzky, but more adored. Think Pele, but possibly more revered. Combine them into a single athlete and you might begin to capture the adoration Indians have for cricket star Sachin Tendulkar.”

The retirement also led to some fine writing on Sachin’s career and his relationship with India. Here is a list of my favorites:

Tunku Varadarajan on NYT:

“There is no Indian tradition of graceful retirement. The inherent human vanity of an authority reluctant to cede the public stage is reinforced by a culture of adulation, of shrieking, ululating crowds, of an uncritical elevation of heroes to godlike status by devotees who will not let go. In politics, in cinema, even in corporate business houses, old Indian men do not fade into the sunset. They hobble on and on. And when they die, they are “kept alive” by heirs who succeed them: sons, daughters, wives. Sport, by its very nature, is different: there is no elegant case for heirs on a cricket team, and the body imposes its own laws of retirement.”

“In a land of chronic inefficiency, he was remorselessly efficient; in a land with a global inferiority complex, he was the best in the world; in a land where public figures are strutting peacocks, he was often a picture of painful humility; in a land that thirsts for self-respect, Sachin spelled pride.”

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan on ESPN CricInfo:

“He leaves behind an immense emptiness. The great novelist Vladimir Nabokov once said that every time he completed a novel he felt like a house that was emptied of its grand piano. And so it is with Indian cricket. After 24 years of dedicated service, after an emotion-drenched Test in Mumbai, the grand piano has left the building.”

Samanth Subramanian on New Yorker:

” My favorite genre of Tendulkar anecdote involves other top-drawer cricketers talking about him, recounting instances of his consummate skill, expressing baffled awe about how he did what he did. How he had eons more time—some microseconds—to play the ball than any other batsman. How he could read a bowler’s mind. How he seemed faultlessly engineered to bat. Every sport seems basic in the range of its mechanics, requiring only that you hit a ball hard, or kick it accurately, or run really fast. You wonder how much better something so basic could possibly be done, until Tendulkar or Roger Federer or Usain Bolt shows you, and then you feel nothing but comprehension and gratitude.”

And finally, for the quants out there, S Rajesh on ESPN CricInfo on Sachin’s stats:

“Sachin Tendulkar’s Test stats reflect consistency over a staggeringly long period, with the highlight being his numbers outside the subcontinent”

Happy Tuesday!

I have a blog!

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It’s pouring rain in Chicago, and utterly gloomy. What better way to kill time than to finally get my blog running. It is absolutely incredible how simple it is to get a website running these days – a domain and webspace from Hostgator, a 2 minute installation to get WordPress running, and sometime to find a pretty theme. But then again, that’s just the easy part. The tough part is writing regularly. Hopefully, I’ll be a bit more diligent this time.

11/19 update – Just imported my travel blog from a long time ago as well. All the previous posts are from my travels in Argentina.

Adventures in Korea-Town

Buenos Aires is like any other city. There are good sides and dangerous sides, rich parts and poor parts, sketchy barrios and gentrified districts. Last week, I ventured outside my Recoleta shell, not really by choice, to a slightly dodgier part of the city. The plan was to meet a friend for dinner at what he claimed to be the best Korean restaurant in town, in Korea-town. There is surprisingly a community, albeit very small, and numbers in the thousands, of Koreans, Japanese, and Chinese in Buenos Aires. Most of them migrated very many decades ago, and are confined to their respective barrios. Barrio Corea, somehow, got shafted in the whole deal.

My friend gave me the address of the restaurant and recommended that I take a taxi there, since the area is a wee bit sketchy. The first four taxis I got into refused to take me there. The first two taxis didn’t really give me a reason. The third one said the place was out of his way. And the fourth one said its simply too dangerous. At that point, my more sensible and logical side should have been convinced that if its dangerous enough to detract taxis from going, maybe I, as a foreigner, travelling alone, should perhaps refrain from this excursion. The more impulsive part of my brain, however, won the argument and convinced a fifth taxi driver to take me there. The ride was uneventful and normal. The streets, as it should be on a Friday night, was crowded and filled with people. There nothing extraordinary, until the taxi made a turn into Avenida Carabobo. Suddenly the streets were empty; there was not a single soul on the streets and very few cars on the road. The shops, the garages, and just about everything seemed shut. Every window on every building was decorated with huge iron barricades. Suddenly, I wished I was far far away back in Recoleta. The taxi edged, block by block, further into Korea town. The only people present were lone groups of what looked like teenagers.  The moment we reached the restaurant (which looked more like a school from the outside), I paid and darted straight into it, only to discover that I needed to be let in through one of this video-security-button things. I felt sort of safe the moment I got in because the restaurant was absolutely packed with people, including a ton of Koreans.

The reason why Korea town was so dangerous was not because there was a Korean mafia or anything along the lines of that. The area is merely three blocks away from the Villa, a huge and rapidly growing slum in Argentina. The slum is apparently filled with people who have moved into the city from the countryside and immigrants from all over south America, especially Paraguay. Though it probably doesn’t compare to the slums in Brazil (totally hearsay), its still huge and easily the most dangerous neighborhood in Buenos Aires, mostly for foreigners. And it doesn’t really help that most of the Cocaine (and other drugs) are dealt and trafficked in the same area. Most of the taxis refuse to go to this part of the town, especially in the night, because there were a slew of stabbings, shoot-outs, and muggings earlier this year. I also think that the first four taxis refused to take me especially because I was a foreigner travelling alone. They probably thought that this kid has no idea what he is getting into (and they were right).

The food, nevertheless, was incredible. For 70 pesos, around 18 US$, the restaurant offered an all you can eat Korean/Japanese/Chinese buffet, including tons of fresh salmon Sushi and Sashimi. I honestly think I consumed more Sashimi that night than I ever have in all my life. Korea-town is also legitimately Korean. All the signs in this part of the town are in Hangul and Castellano. There are Karaoke bars and ‘Oriental’ supermarkets, and tons of Korean people in all these places. Though a part of me wanted to wander across this what could be a very interesting barrio, the thought of a potential mugging or stabbing quenched that exploratory thirst very very quickly.

Thankfully my friends had a car and drove me back, sparing me from a possibly excruciating search/wait for a taxi, and I found myself drinking, feeling rather safe, in a bar in Recoleta very soon…

On Patience, Tardiness, and Life in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is Argentina. The city, home to 13 million people, roughly a third of the population of Argentina, is the cultural, political, economic, (other similar adjectives), capital of the country. In the words of my landlady, the rest of the country is simply farms, farms and more farms (Disclaimer: I haven’t been to the rest of the country, and the views stated are not mine). Everything that happens in Argentina happens here. But despite being the self-declared, all-important, charming capital city, Buenos Aires is surprisingly, and often annoyingly, super chill. Unlike other cities of similar sizes and importance like London or Hong Kong, Buenos Aires lacks that frantic manic energy. And its wonderful, and absolutely refreshing.  

Life is rather slow here. There is no rush and there is no urgency, to anything. Things start late, end late, and usually seems to go on forever. This is a country where the Congress (for readers in the Commonwealth: Parliament) usually begins its sessions at 6 PM in the evening, never before 4 PM, and often finishes as late as 4 AM (usually after the opposition walks out in a rage). And unlike Hong Kong or New York, people don’t walk like they’re about to miss the last train to heaven. If it were ever possible to measure the average speed of the average person walking to work on a weekday in Buenos Aires, I can prove to you that Buenos Aires is about as laidback as it gets. The workday barely gets going by 10 AM, and often ends by 4/5 PM. Dinners that are scheduled for 9 PM rarely start before 10 PM, often goes well past midnight, and kills a couple of bottles of wine along the way. If you see someone you know on the street, greet them, give them a kiss on the cheek, strike up a conversation, share a cup of coffee, and after which, you go on your merry way. 

In some ways, this general slowness magnifies the importance of patience in this city. It can be very frustrating to discover that there is a 10 minute wait for a cheeseburger at McDonalds; the concept of fast food is lost somewhere in translation. At the local watering hole, it takes a dozen minutes to order a pitcher of beer (because it will take the waiter that long to take your order), another dozen minutes to arrive (because the waiter is really in no rush to serve you), and there is very little one can do to change that. The first thing my landlady (more French than Argentine) told me is that Argentines are always late; the rule of thumb is to arrive half hour after the scheduled time in a fashionably late manner. And the rule doesn’t apply solely to dinner parties. The plumber, the taxi driver, computer tech-support, and just about everyone else operate under these rules.

While I found this general tardiness rather annoying at first, this is a new perspective on life for those of us obsessed with getting things done in the shortest and quickest possible manner. There is simply no point in rushing through everything, from work to dinner to conversations with friends. If the tango show in the middle of the street catches your eye, stay, enjoy, devour it. The lesson is that, if you’re going to be doing something, might as well do it well, enjoy it, and take your good time to do it. Armed with this new epiphany, I am off, to enjoy another slow night in this beautiful city.  

Dreary Days in Buenos Aires

I can declare, with conviction, that the rain gods hate weekends. Either that or they just really really don’t like me. They’ve taken it upon themselves (Million-dollar question: God – plural, singular or non-existent?) to ensure that it rains, every weekend, wherever I am; be it Maine, San Francisco, or Buenos Aires. While being swamped with work during weekdays, at school or otherwise, there are these postcard perfect, glorious sunny days that are lovely enough to make Scrooge part with a dollar. But it turns, very rapidly, into a water-drenched, lightning crackling, cold and damp weekend with that incessant drizzle, the moment Friday comes along. This is not to say that I haven’t dealt with never ending rains. Growing up in Kerala, where it rains (not drizzles, but rains hard enough to fill entire cities with water) for three whole months without ever letting up, I’ve had my fair share of monsoons. But rains that are cold, damp and entirely limited to the weekends is a completely different beast.  

It rained the entire weekend. In fact, it has rained two out of the last three weekends. Instead of celebrating the Argentine victory against Nigeria (it is debatable whether it was worth celebrating) in the World Cup, people huddled inside their homes, reluctant to set a foot outside. Former visitors to Argentina and many locals themselves have told me that I am fool for visiting this gorgeous country in the winter (The southern hemisphere has its winter during the northern hemisphere summer). Its cold, they said, chilly, prickly, and the cities tend to shut down. There is no liveliness, and the bars and the clubs move indoors. And it hasn’t even hit peak winter yet. It is Autumn right now. Save the rains, the weather is rather nice with a mild occasional chill. And like my old French landlady says, who’s spent a fair time of her life in this city, Argentina is blessed with glorious sunshine throughout the year (except, obviously, when it rains). 

In some ways, I am glad I came in the winter. It is in the winter that the true nature of the city comes out (hopefully BA isn’t as bad as New York in the winter). The true pulse of the city and its people, their moods and thoughts, bubbles in the winter, a time for retrospection, intellectual debate, skiing. And I am very excited to delve into that. As I am writing this, from the 20th floor of an office building with huge windows facing the Mar Dulce (The Sweet Sea, which is actually the widest river in the world and separates Uruguay from Argentina), a distinct, pacific, orange glow is visible in the distant horizon as the fog slowly clears up on the sweet sea. The lighting is still crackling and there is still a drizzle, but for the eerie calm enveloping the sea and the city, and for the dark clouds with faint streaks of purple and orange, I am more than willing to trade in a couple of sunny days. 

The Taxi Diaries

Taxi drivers are a strange breed. Across the world, the easiest way to get the pulse of a city is by engaging a taxi driver in conversation. And whether it is Hong Kong, New York, Delhi or London, Taxi drivers, generally, LOVE to talk. Its the same in Buenos Aires. Taxis are super cheap, and therefore used abundantly in the city. The average ride costs merely US$ 3-4 for one neighborhood to another. The taxis, which surprisingly look like the black and yellow taxis of Bombay, are comfortable, safe, and found 24/7 on every street corner. All you need to hold out your hand to taxi with the word ‘libre’ (free) flashing on the front. I’ve taken a ton of taxis lately, mostly in the wee hours of the morning after a very very long night out.. And honestly, its a rather fun way to end the night (or begin the day depending on how you look at it). Why? Because they always have something fun or interesting they they really really want to share with somebody else. And usually, if you engage the taxi driver, he (I haven’t seen a female taxi driver in BA. Not yet?), will talk, a lot.

A sampling of my conversations in a taxi include an expert narration of the geography of Asia including capitals of all Asian countries by a driver in his mid 60s. After finding out that I was Indian, he obviously felt the need to assure me that he was very aware of my region of the world, including the racial, religious, ethnic tensions that plague the region. After calling the British colonizers ‘idiotas’, he told me that I was crazy to travel such long ways to come to Argentina, and that though he would love to travel to Asia, he would not do so until they invent some sort of instant travel device, like in Harry Potter (at least that is what I understood with my rather weak Spanish). Another taxista offered a solid news analysis of the growing cocaine-crime-cartel problem in Mexico and the stupid Americans who consume cocaine. This conversation started when I told him I am studying in the US. Another brief but interesting conversation included a succinct yet solid history of Queen (the English rock band) (he started with ‘do you know that the lead singer of Queen, Freddy Mercury was Indian?).

What surprised me the most is the fact that, despite all the futbol craziness, and the impending World Cup, not a single conversation (I’ve lost track of the number of taxi conversations I’ve had), involved football. Maybe that’ll change once the world cup starts? But it could also be very well because of the fact that India doesn’t have a decent soccer team (despite the solid 1.1 billion people whose genetic variability that should be able to produce at least 15 persons who can decently kick a ball around!). They probably assumed that I know nothing about futbol. If they only knew that in Kerala, there are hardcore futbol fans who are as crazy about the Argentine team as they are, maybe I would’ve gotten an even better reception? 

Viva la Revolucion?

Argentina is 200 years old. Though I, rather unfortunately, missed the Bicentennial celebrations by less than a week, the mood is still euphoric. Just about every apartment that has a balcony has an Argentine flag hanging off it. The billboards and the posters all talk about celebrating the 200th anniversary of the founding of the ‘patria’ or the fatherland (probably an incorrect translation). Argentina is rather proud of itself. At some point in history, a very long time ago, Argentina was very rich, and was, in fact, one of the fastest growing countries in the world. The psyche of the nation is still partly driven by those glory days.  The country, however, has been in rather dire economic straits for the last half-century or so.  A cycle of populist demagogues, military juntas, rightist demagogues, and demagogic dictators has decimated the economy. Throw in the Cold War, Communist/Leftist revolutionaries across Latin America (read: Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, Fidel Castro, Sandinistas, Tupamaros, et al), Conservative Catholics, and Marxist Catholics (read: liberation theologists), you get a sticky mess of a society fractured socially, politically and economically, whose sole sense of purpose is to regain the Islas Malvinas (more commonly known as the Falkland Islands) from the Brits, and to win the Futbol World Cup, even if Diego Maradona scores goals with his hands.

Nevertheless, the country has semi-recovered in the last fifteen years. Presidency of the left-leaning Kircheners (Two five-years terms of Nestor Kirchener, followed by the incumbent president, Nestor’s wife, Cristina Fernandez) has managed to restore a modicum of macro-economic stability to the country. Though the Kircheners are unabashedly leftist in orientation, they belong to new generation of Latin American market-oriented leftists. This paradoxical group, led by the famed Lula of Brazil, are perhaps not as leftist as the Chinese Communist Party (read: Capitalist), but definitely attempts to walk the fine line between pro-poor socialist policies and pro-market policies. This is, however, not the common argument.

The general trend towards leftist governments in the decade of 2000 in Latin America, seemed to suggest to pundits worldwide that neo-liberal governments and their policies throughout 1990s have inflamed the anger of the masses, and that the emergence of leftist government ranging from Morales in Bolivia to Bachelet in Chile to Lula and Kirchners in Brazil and Argentina, was a democratic reaction to neo-liberalism. However, the emergence of the left hasn’t really shifted the development paradigm away from neo-liberal economics. These leftists are working under a system where, in order to abstain from total macro-economic collapse and triggering another military coup, they simply have to entertain certain neo-liberal policies. And they have worked it to their advantage. The epiphany among these leaders that creating more wealth means there is more to share, and that will keep the masses happy, has guided their policies. The mantra of neo-liberal policies with a heart has made Lula, perhaps, the most popular leader in the history of Brazil, while overseeing transformative economic growth and attempting to curtail the country’s notorious income inequality (Sao Paulo has the highest number of private, personal use helicopters in the world). And the Kircheners, who would love to be as popular as Lula, are also trying the same thing, albeit not as successful. Perhaps someday Argentina will regain its former glory. But whether or not that happens, moderate politics, that is neither explicitly leftist or conservative, is here to stay.

Pyramids of Recoleta

There is no dearth of hostels in Buenos Aires. There is also no dearth of apartments for hire on short leases. Seeking a bit more privacy than what is afforded by my 6-men dorm room, and a more intensive way to improve my Castellano (the official name for Spanish here), I embarked on a quest for a private room. The quest culminated rather quickly with me moving into a homestay in perhaps the most ritziest part of Recoleta at a very competitive rate. My new abode, a huge room with a double bed, a private bathroom, cable TV, and MOST importantly, WiFi, is essentially a spare room in an old lady’s apartment. My flatmate, the owner of the apartment, is a wonderful Jewish lady, originally from France, and fled to Argentina from the Nazis during the Second World War. I happily settled into my new street, packed with boutiques of Mont Blanc, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, and continued on my walks.

Apparently, the entire barrio of Recoleta was a response to a Yellow fever. In late 1800’s, an epidemic in the more populous southern districts of Buenos Aires, led to an exodus of the wealthy into newer areas of the city, a.k.a Recoleta. The broad tree lined avenues and the mansions of the wealthy still exist in all its magnificent glory (albeit the mansions being converted into embassies of various nations).

I happened on my first ‘tourist’ attraction almost by accident. A stone’s throw away from my apartment is the (in)famous Recoleta Cemetery. Decked with broad tree lined avenues, baroque architecture, and gargoyles and figurines of unprecedented finesse, it is a monument to the persistent human endeavor to live in style, in ultimate luxury, even in death; and hence the name of the post. Unsurprisingly, most of the people buried in cemetery are heavyweights of Argentinian history. However, most people do not come here to enjoy the beautiful architecture, or rant about the decadence of Argentinian elite (which is truly warranted), most people come to pay homage to Eva Peron, wife of Juan Peron, perhaps the most famous President in Argentinian history. While Eva’s tomb is rather austere compared to some of the more exquisite one, its the only one in the cemetery that is absolutely decked out with fresh flowers.  Slightly sickened by the sheer display of wealth in a cemetery, I left as quickly as I entered it.

Chopsuey Chronicles

To be honest, I haven’t really ventured outside of Recoleta. Except for my work at the city center, most of my walks have been centered in the barrio of my hostel. Numerous nights have been spent walking in circles around Recoleta trying to find new restaurants and a new apartment for me to move into. I’ve had success on both counts.

Like I recounted in my last post, I’ve learnt to avoid Milenesa Sandwiches. But my quest for food has taken unexpected turns, including terrible Chinese food and excellent Sushi. The major problem with traveling solo is that, most of the time, there is no one to share food with. Given that I am a light eater, I end up ordering one dish and tend to base my opinion of a restaurant solely on that dish. With that in mind, two nights ago, I entered the Casa Chinita (Possibly translated as the Little Chinese Girl’s House?). It was empty (should have avoided it?). After peering over the Spanish-Chinese menu, I ordered Chopsuey. As some of my friends will know, I’ve often tried to unpack the true essence of a Chopsuey. Nobody really knows what a chopsuey exactly entails. The dish, though popular in countries as diverse as Costa Rica and India, is believed to have a North American origin (I never encountered a Chopsuey during my travels in China, except in a Bangladeshi-run Indian restaurant in Hong Kong). A Chopsuey ordered in Oakland, Maine usually entails macaroni pasta, cheese, meat, some soy sauce and tastes about as Chinese as a plate of Fish’n’Chips from an English Pub. A Chopsuey cooked by the famed Malayali cooks of Cochin from the ‘Chinese Garden’ normally involves some meat, noodles, some sauce, some spiciness and remains absolutely true to the Indo-Chinese style of cooking. The desire to understand the nature of Argentine Chopsuey overcame me and I ordered Chicken Chopsuey or Chopsuey con ‘pollo’ (Lesson 1 about Argentine Spanish: While rest of Spanish speakers pronounce words with letters ‘ll’ as ‘y’, Argentines have taken it upon themselves to break free and re-pronounce it as ‘sh’).

Predictably, Argentinian Chopsuey also has a unique mind of its own. For one, unlike many other Chopsuey, this one has no noodles, rice, pasta or any such carbohydrates. This was a large plate of stir fried vegetables, predominantly spring onions and peppers, with strips of meat. It didn’t taste particularly Chinese. In fact, it was so bland that I had to request hot sauce, and since they obviously didn’t have any, I doused the dish soy sauce and salt to golf it down. The mystery of the Chopsuey lives on.

My nightly walk yesterday brought me to the frontsteps of Dashi Sushi. My mind, suddenly excited by the thought of some wasabi piercing through my nose, simply could not resist. The restaurant, which tries hard (excruciatingly hard) to look Japanese, complete with calligraphy, waiters in kimonos, and Asian fusion music, was actually decent. My plate of 14 rolls, which set me back 10US$, along with a glass of Asahi was surprisingly filling. Contrary to my Casa Chinita experience, I left the restaurant happy to continue on my long walks of the neighborhood.

hyper-political, squash playing, movie loving, travel-bug bitten, 20-something indian from kochi working in chicago