Knowing that I am leaving for Pakistan the second time, many of my friends have eagerly offered tons of tips about places to visit, restaurants to dine in and never forgot to emphasize the Pakistani sweet mango. If there is a possibility, I know they wanted me to smell all colorful flowers, climb all beautiful mountains, taste all delicious fruits and visit all their relatives. Unfortunately, I have fallen short of all their expectation, except for one. The only thing I have accomplished proudly is that I have eaten all types of Kebabs, if not the extra weight I have gained. However, it is that hospitality gratifies me throughout my trip.
Deafening turbo engine revved besides my seat window, within seconds the city of Dubai quickly reduced into thousands of lights, specks of colorful neon light and several twisting, playful Chinese dragon formed by the trailing lights from weary drivers. Splendour. Minutes later, the giant bird dived above the darkness… little was remembered before I slowly drifted into my dreams.
By the time I got down the plane, the place gives me a very familiar feeling. The discomfort due to draggling economic development was soon replaced by a strong feeling of nostalgia. It was not long before it evolved into a more complicated emotion. Even on the way from the International Airport to my hotel, my driver had to be very careful not to hit one of the many of big holes in the middle of the road. In additional to the bumpy drive, the right wheel traffic system makes it even harder for me to recover some sleep inside the car.
After repaying my sleeping debt, I recollected myself on the street again. I have finally realized where the familiar feeling comes from. The street, the buildings have very much resembled the old streets in my home town, loud yelling of street vendors, frenzy horning along the road. What added more to my discovery are the number of four feet animals on the road. Dogs, cats, buffalos, mules, horse, the number I have seen during that couple of days was times greater than what I have seen for the past twenty four years. Motors cars, bikes, all kinds of two, three four wheel transports blurred with heavy smokes, yelling, horns, dust mixed with the smell of Biriyani or Tandoori roti from street vendor, thrust all five of your sensation. It took a while for me to adjust to the feeling of right wheel car. It is a special feeling for drivers. One gets used to look at the rear whenever the car turns and reverses, even though he is not driving. Task like looking left before crossing the road may not be easily adjustable as it seemed to be.
One of the prestigious places in Lahore trades laptop, mobiles and electronics. With spiral big stair at the center of the shopping plaza, corridors stretch along four directions with plenty of shops on each side. Hundreds of people flocked to this congested place looking for a buy while shopkeepers were bargaining for a better deal for themselves. Most of the shops here are dealing used laptops imported from America. Including Shahid, he used to own a shop here. It really amazed me how well he had kept his contact with all the people here, from cafe shop, laptop shop, mobile shop to money exchange. No body has been missed out. The underground parking was a another manifestation of how flexible and creative people could be. The parking keepers pushed around cars to make spaces for others. A one floor parking area like the size of Burjman had been used with ten times efficiency. I have got lost many times even in the Burjman parking, the parking lot in Hafeeze Center was nothing less than a gigantic maze to me. How Shahid found his car was still a mystery to me.
When I got down from the Airplane, my first impression was that: Karachi International airport was a lot more alive than that of Lahore. The number of air planes, the existence of internal brands, the hasty crowd, enthusiastic vendors and neatly dressed airport staff. The Costa’s iconic coffee bean had successfully induced me for a lovely coffee latte. Wherever it is, the taste of food in McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza hut, or the coffee in Costa, Starbucks, remain unchanged. If Lahore is the city of garden and university, then Karachi surely is the commercial hub. Clean and wide road were decorated with flashing neon bill boards. Street vendors never miss a chance to sell you a string of fresh picked jasmine or a cup of ice cream. Cars run on the streets round the clock; restaurants open from evening until the first shade of sunlight. It is a lively city. In Karachi I have finally realized one of my dreams: riding horse on the beach! Tapping with sea waves, the smell of salt, sand, sea and the horse filled my nostril. Of course, I did not waste the opportunity to show off my skills. It was magnificent!
People are becoming increasingly conscious about diet. But if you remove oil, ghee from Pakistan cuisine, you won’t have many choices left other than a Kulfi. Lalqila, Village, Grills, Barbecue Tonight, Lahore Food Street all of them provide the diner a unique experience, but one thing is the same. The variety in their buffet is definitely more than one person’s capacity: Miri, Malai, Gola Ganda, Kofta, Afghani Kebab, grilled fish, tikka, tukh tak… the quantity of food served never short of your expectation. I have realized that the limitation to the size of one’s stomach can really leave regrets in life. Cocos was the last stop of my Lahore trip, where all the staffs enjoyed a nice get together at the top of one of the most beautiful restaurants in Lahore. Accompanied with a stunning night view of Badshahin Mosque, mouthwatering food, it was one of the special nights I will never forget.
One day, I was just staring the busy street outside our shop in Karachi. I noticed a 5-6 year old boy holding the hand of an elder man and moving slowly at the side of the road. It was not long before I realized that the boy was actually leading, perhaps his father. Apparently, the elder man could not see and walk. The elderly man has snow white hair, washed out blue rags barely covered his body. His reddish shoulder exposed under the sun, with bean size black spots scattered over. He has suffered from leukoderma. After a few steps, the old man had to sit down near the road, and buried his face in his arms and knees. His body was trembling with intermittent coughing. Even though I couldn’t see his face, at that moment, I was struck by an overwhelming feeling of sorrow expressed by his body language. I have sensed tremendous courage in each step they have made.
Child labour was never a problem here. Or maybe I should say there aren’t much choice for people to choose between work and starving. The boy had come for some contracting work in our office might really felt fortunate than the other child beggars on the street. He was about 10 year old. He looked very wan with reddish cheeks with bean size pockmark. His hair, eyebrow was so yellowish, as if it was bleached away. His unique appearance of an albino made him stood out from all his colleagues. Unlike an ordinary child who goes to school, whining about ugly school uniform, insufficient allowance, tasteless home food; his life was to sweep floor, clean the garbage bin, take occasional shouting from others. Harsh reality often left very less space for people to imagine things for their future. Child labour? No doubt it was. But if he was not doing it, he might not have food for the next day. Food and shelter is the reality, rhetoric does not worth anything here.
In Karachi, the security issues were always a shadow in everyone’s mind. I didn’t feel comfortable, to even walk 50 meters from my office. I am afraid that the same reason has hindered the nations development. GDP growth for Pakistan was about 6-8% for the past couple of years. But 11% inflation rate (CIA world fact book, 2008) and low saving rate tampers economic development. Compare to India, a country which Pakistan has shared its roots and past, there are so much potential left untackled. It is not that there aren’t enough skilled people in Pakistan nor enough natural resources. Then, what might be the reason? I am afraid it is beyond my comprehension.
It is a culture with strong Islamic influence. However, it is a very different culture ambience from that in Arab countries. An element of desi culture has been finely blended in between. Mosque calls people for prayer five times a day; Hindi songs were played everywhere. It was an amazing experience with all the people I have met during the past two visits. The people I have met are really intelligent, kind and hard working. They are from all type of background, held different values and beliefs. But I have always found a great deal of things to learn from them.
I really start feeling the inspiration in what I am doing. And the inspiration became even stronger in my second trip. I feel deeply grateful for the opportunity to participate in something of such magnitude, challenging, ambitious, visionary and fascinating! I have actively involved almost all the aspect of new business setup: decoration, training, last minute trouble shooting, third party relationship, lavish opening ceremony, news conference and many more. The indepth experience of operation of such magnitude helps me to refine my knowledge and skills. I have learnt a better picture of the problems faced by managers and entrepreneurs. So many things to handle at a very limited time frame requires exceptional experience and skills. I sense that this is going to be one of the significant lessons I am going to learn in my life.
Travel surely increases one’s understanding of life which can never be derived from book. The place, the people, the language, the smell on the street, the history, the food, all of them contributed the unique experience of Pakistan trip. In a complex world now, people at times, wanted to go back to the simpler life, go back to the old time and used to be way. That is why Venice has changed very little since hundreds of years. People’s reluctance to change and yearn for certainty have always played an important role our civilization. At times, craving for certainty denies us from new opportunities. History is always more powerful than any single human being and few organization have withstood the test of time. Change is inevitable, with or without your participation.