Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Floating to Escape

Today I experienced something completely new. I went to the East Bay to experiment with floating. Floating is a relaxation therapy that helps to relieve stress and pain, promote creativity, sharpen senses, and it is a way to escape for an hour from the world.

I went to The Float Center to interview the owner and pick her brain about what exactly floating is. She talked me in to talking a dive and experiencing it first hand.

First you take a shower to remove all of the excess oil from your body and hair. Then you put on a robe and head to the floating room, which was a typical room, but there was a huge space craft looking object in the middle of it: the float tank.

The float tank is probably 10 by 6 feet. It is a rectangular box that has a door at one end, which is where you step into. The inside of the float tank is pitch black and filled with about 10 inches of highly dense salt water.

Once I got into the tank, I lied down in the salty water. The water felt thicker than drinking water and had a slippery gooey feel to it.

I shut my eyes as my body lifted to the top of the water: I was floating. I tried to relax myself and quiet my thoughts. But I couldn't. I continued to hush my stream of thoughts for a few minutes. By this point my body was twitching a little because my relaxation was getting deeper.

I could feel every inch of my body and no part of my body at the same time. I was weight less and I felt like I was drifting into outer space. Once in a while my finger tips would hit the side of the tank and my body would feel like it was slowly spinning in spirals. Or my feet would touch the bottom of the tank and I would suddenly be cruising upward.

I decided that maybe I should picture a peaceful image to further my relaxation. I saw the sky, I saw a light blue sky with small fluffy clouds passing by my eyelids. The clouds turned into stars that turned into bridges that turned into lights. I opened my eyes and the small twinkling lights were still there.

I closed and opened my eyes again. The images didn't go away. For a minute I thought maybe I had been slipped a little something in my tea, but quickly dismissed that idea. I closed my eyes and let the salt water wash over me as a enjoyed my floating visuals. And somewhere in between my spiraling into space and floating hallucinations I fell asleep.

It was a awaking sleep. Barely sleeping, but fully relaxed, with my thoughts and anxiety dissolving in front of me. Time passed.

I suddenly sat up and found myself in a box of darkness, naked, and wet. My heart started racing until my mind caught up with my body and I realized where I was. I felt for the door and lifted myself out of the tank. I was shaking from the experience I had just had. I took a few minutes to catch my breath. As I toweled off I realized how mellow I felt. All of my muscles were calm and my aches had disappeared. I was totally relaxed, which is the point of floating.

I had achieved one of the deepest relaxation experience a person can get from floating I had fallen asleep. Through my floating acid trip through space I achieved complete relaxation.

Barbie Culture Shock

Walking home from school one day, I dragged my backpack on the floor behind me. I walked up the steps to my front door. I opened the door and skipped into my kitchen to find my mom putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher.
She smiled, “Hi Sair-Bear, how was school?”
“Good,” I said shifting from one foot to the other. She pulled a small rectangular box, wrapped in pink shiny paper from behind the cabinet.
“Here’s a little present for you,” she said, gently handing the small surprise over to me.
I squealed, I had the best mom, she gave me just-because-presents, which are the best kind. I grabbed it out of her hand. I dropped to the floor and ripped the paper off of the box.
“A Barbie!” I giggled, barely able to contain my surge of excitement.
I turned over the box to see which Barbie I would be showing off to the other girls at school. I already had quite a collection: Skipper, Asian Barbie, Hawaiian Barbie, Artic Barbie, African Barbie, and Ken of course. I didn’t play with most of them though. They were not like the ones the other girls at school had. The girls only had the original Barbie with blonde hair and blue eyes, which was the one I had been eyeing for months.
In the front window of the box was Asian Barbie. My smile faded into a frown.
“So… what do you think?” my mom asked, “She’s a new one.”
I grunted a little. I got up onto my feet and clenched my fists. I took a deep breath through my nose and exhaled. “I don’t want her!” I screamed. “I told you I wanted the other one. I want one like everyone else, I want a blonde one!”
My mother looked at me with glare of disappointment.
I ripped off the top of the pink box, swept Indian Barbie’s head off her neck and tossed onto the floor.
I started to walk out of the room. “Saira come on,” my mother said, “Hey, I’m talking to you… get back here young lady…not everyone wants the blond Barbie and most people like Barbie’s that look like them,” her voice trailed off as a slammed my bedroom door shut.
I never took the rest of Indian Barbie out of the box. My mother and I never finished out conversation about all the different types of Barbie’s and why I was so obsessed with the blonde one. But sometime after my Barbie blowout my family took a trip to visit my dad’s side of the family in Pakistan.
We flew in to the hot sticky city to attend a wedding of a distant cousin. We had to wear shalwar kameez, which is traditional Pakistani attire. The outfits were made out of the softest sheer material and were littered in sequins. The wedding was decorated with bright colors and everyone was singing and dancing. I had never seen so many Pakistani’s; I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people that looked like me.
I watched the women with their thick gold jewelry, dancing and laughing. I saw a little bit of myself in these women and for some reason that comforted my insecurities of being different. I didn’t have to hide my features or try to accentuate features I didn’t possess. All most all of them had big ear lobes, large almond eyes, and brown skin, just like me. They looked nothing like the girls back home- or even Barbie. The world suddenly got a little bit bigger.
I turned to my mother to share my newfound realization. I looked at her and found that she was the one who stuck out. She was the only one with light skin and light eyes, but she didn’t seem to mind. She embraced the culture and the people because they were different from her. I think she liked that. I think that was the lessen she tried to teach me. She knew I was insecure about being one of the only minorities in a predominantly white suburb. She gave me the Barbie’s to show me that there are different parts of the world and each part has different people. But it wasn’t until I visited the part of the world where I am from that I finally understood: sometimes it is great to be the same and sometimes it is great to be different.

Summer Of Love

Check out my multimedia on the Summer of Love 40th anniversary festival.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Halloween in the Castro cancelled?

Despite city official’s efforts to shift attention toward another venue, Castro residents claim that witches, warlocks, and scallywags will continue to haunt the streets of the Castro district this Halloween.

Due to the increasing amount of violence over the years, locals now associate Halloween with brutality. They fear that this year crime will increase because of the lack of police enforcement.

“People are still going to come, which is worse because there will be less cops to supervise,” said Wayne Sandeven, a former resident of the Castro.

Last year nine people were shot and in 2002 four people were stabbed. A large amount of locals agree that the event needs to be banned from the area and moved to another location.

“People are dressing up like Jack the Ripper and hiding guns in their jackets,” said Todd David, 46, who has lived in the Castro for 14 years, “It is not safe and I don’t blame them for trying to move it.”

City officials have not finalized a site, but are considering holding the festivity at Pier 30-32 reported The Examiner. This location is essentially a parking lot, which could facilitate a large event.

According to the Port of San Francisco the festival will have a possible top-name performer to lure in the crowd, but will not distribute alcohol in an attempt to keep violence at a minimum.

To discourage people from venturing into the Castro, some restaurants and stores will be closing early said residents. In addition, there will be no entertainment, stages, or portable toilets for those who do come to party.

Many people who live in the Castro have stopped attending the festivity because it does not revolve around the community anymore.

According to Dale Adams, a Castro resident and Peet’s Coffee employee, Halloween pulls people in from all over the Bay Area and they bring bad things with them, like the shootings and stabbings. Adams has stopped attending because of how drastically the festival has changed.

Some resident’s say the outsiders have ruined this event for everyone who once enjoyed it.

“Halloween has become increasingly violent. It’s not the local people who go out, it’s the gay community anymore,” said Mike Roloff, who has lived in the Castro for seven years,

Although the city is trying to move the celebration, some think it would be a better idea to charge people who want to come in.

“I think that they should leave it in the Castro and charge a $25 entry fee, to keep the trash off the streets,” said David.

This is not the first time officials have tried to move the party away from this district. During 1996-2001 the city sponsored a fair at the Civic Center, and people still went to the Castro.

Some locals argue that the city should establish a dress code, while others disagree.

There shouldn’t be a regulation on costumes because that is the point of Halloween said Roloff.

San Francisco accommodates endless festivals and parades, but as the violence at these events increases, locals question whether the city will continue to hold them.

“It was the same thing at Pride and the North Beach Street Fair,” said Adams, “When events stop being fun and start being dangerous it is time to make a change.”

Roloff compares Halloween in the Castro to the first of May in West Berlin, Germany, The Day of Working, where he said drag queens have been attacked by bombs and rioting.

Some argue that the disturbances at these public arenas are not as much about sexuality as they are about the influences from culture and music.

“It’s not even the straights, urban gays start as many problems as straights do,” said Adams, “People who are influenced heavily by hip-hop music create the same problems. I am from Pleasanton and even at the Pleasanton Fair these things happen, it’s not just the Castro.”

There are very few people that disagree with the attempts of moving the Halloween party to another location to try and calm the crowds.

“It sucks they are canceling it, I went two years ago and it was crazy,” said Kellen Kreig, a barista at Peet’s Coffee on Upper Market.

People in San Francisco, and the Castro in specific, seem to agree that although Halloween in the Castro is entertaining, safety is more important.

Myspace Pedophiles

Novemeber 2006

Students across the nation are franticly searching for a computer to check their space online at People are logging on for hours and hours to post the hottest pictures of themselves, find old friends, leave comments, search for new videos and music, and browse for strangers to meet in the area.

Currently there are 43 million people on Myspace and the website has become the third most visited site online according to NBC news.

As the Myspace community grows, the countless number of photos of girls in their underwear increases. And as the demographic gets younger the question must be asked: who will be attracted to this site? It is not just kids from school or a friendly neighbor; this site is a porthole for pedophiles.

“I’ve gotten a friend request from guys over 40 more than five times and they will send messages that say ‘hey you’re cute, what’s up,’ I never write them back,” said student Airica Prange.

Fifty-percent of myspace users are 35 or older, according to comScore Media Metrix's analysis of its U.S. Internet traffic measurements.

“My little cousin who is ten is on myspace and it grosses me out that some 45-year-old guy has access to hit on her,” said Prange.

Despite popular belief, there are only thirty-percent of people that are under 25.

“[Myspace] shows a lot of examples of how the Internet can persuade na├»ve people,” said Samantha Rodden, a frequent Myspace user.

In Connecticut a month ago, a 21-year-old man was arrested for allegedly raping a 14-year-old girl he met on myspace, according to NBC news.

“If you’re a pedophile, it might be a great way to go shopping,” said Myspace and Facebook user, Matt Simpson.

“That’s the thing, I like myspace in the fact that we can talk to each other, especially if [my friends] live far away, but there are little kids on their that aren’t taught to not talk to strangers,” said Prange.

Many students have tuned into the NBC show “Dateline”, a special on pedophiles. The network creates usernames and identifies themselves as either a 13 year-old boy or girl to see how far these pedophiles will go for their addiction. Many of the people writing to the network online actually go to the 13 year-olds’ house with the intention of sleeping with the minor.

“I think it’s just a reflection of the real world, online chatting doesn’t create pedophiles, it’s the exposed percentage of pedophiles who are shown as they really are,” said student Christine Aney.

Prange said she only talks to people that she knows and never adds strangers.

Simpson said he likes Facebook better because you can find people through their schools and he also likes the confidentially element of Facebook.

“My old myspace had over 500 friends and I deleted it because it wasn’t private or about keeping in touch with my friends,” said Eric Borlaug, student body president of Santa Barbara City College.

“If you use myspace you should know what can happen,” said Simpson.

MySpace was conceived as a cyber community where people in the same city or on opposite ends of the Earth could meet and correspond said Myspace co- founder Tom Anderson to NBC. But how close is too close?

“It’s as close as you let people get to you,” said Aney.

Feature: Imam Tahir

On a busy downtown San Jose street lined with Victorian houses it is easy to miss the white, one-story building with the sign “Islamic Association.” But for Imam Thair Anwar(cq), the building at 325 N. Third St. (cq) is the center of his life.

Not only did he grow up at the mosque under the spiritual guidance of his father, Mohammad Anwar(cq), this is now his perch for spreading Islam in the South Bay and all over the world.

“I had the greatest advantage that I was able to watch my dad as an Imam,” the 29-year-old, Anwar (cq) said. “It is wonderful to have the ability to be there for people in need and to inspire.”

The South Bay Islamic Association is also the place where Anwar (cq) tries to educate those outside the Muslim community and counter common stereotypes about his faith in a country in which views are often hostile, especially since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“It is normal to be wary about certain people, but the stereotyping about Muslim terrorist has to stop,’’ he said. “Most Muslims have lived in the U.S. their whole lives.’’

Anwar(cq) does different types of outreach work. He ministers to prisoners and is looking to set up mosques in places that need it the most. He takes a group to Saudi Arabia every other year, and he has been featured in national news outlets. He uses his platform to speak about practices and beliefs that seem to counter western culture, including the role of women.

“Most women who want to be submissive have been raised to think that way and are ashamed to betray those culture values,” said a spokes person from Feminist Majority (cq), a feminist organization.

But Anwar (cq) says Muslim men do not force women into a submissive role.

“In my relationship, I chose her (my wife) because she was covered and wanted to take care of the children and did not want to work,” he said. “There are some women who don’t feel comfortable without a veil and taking the responsibility of working.”

While the job can be tough, Anwar says he does it to honor his father, who is now 95 and living in India. The two speak by telephone daily. He was inspired by his father’s work because he saw how many people he touched at the mosque. Seven years ago, when he first became an imam, or Muslim spiritual leader, when he became an imam at 21 he was the youngest in the United States.

“I never thought I would make it back here to the same mosque where I was brought up,” Anwar said. (cq)

Anwar grew up in San Jose and was home-schooled by his parents.

He moved to the Bay Area in 1983 and then returned to India to receive a bachelor’s degree in Islamic Theology at Darul Uloom Falah e Darain. (cq)

During his studies, Anwar(cq) memorized the Qur’an and studied the Arabic language, including syntax, literature, etymology, translation, exegesis, the interpretation of a religious text, and elucidation of the Qur’an.

Muslims consider it an honor to memorize the Qur’an he said, and Muslims recite the entire Qur’an by memory in prayer in the month of Ramadan, which is the holy month in which Muslims fast.

“Those who memorize the Qur’an can take 10(cq) people who are destined to hell to heaven when they die,” said Anwar(cq), who has three (cq) brothers who have memorized the Qur’an as well.

The holy book is his guide, and there are certain things that women are not allowed to do according to the Qur’an, he said.

“Women can not lead prayer. It is prohibited by the faith because God made it that way,” Anwar(cq) said, “This is traditional in all faiths, you will never find a prophetess you will always find a prophet.”

Another rule that is set down by the Qur’an is that men pray in the front and women pray in the back, he explained.

Anwar (cq) explained that the men stare at the women if they are in front of them, this is part of nature, but it is distracting to the prayer.

He also recently invested in dividers to separate the men and women for more focused prayer sessions.

Anwar tries to counter other misperceptions, including that Muslims in the United States are somehow drifting from their faith.

On the contrary, Muslims are increasingly turning devout in the shadow of the war and post Sept. 11.(cq)

“World events are haunting Muslims and more people are finding faith more important,” Anwar said. “Peace and security are found in faith. Put trust in God and he will always come through.”

Anwar(cq) does not only give encouragement to Muslims in San Jose, but he also reaches out to Muslims around the world.

He speaks, reads, and writes five different languages. He began speaking his mothers tongue, Gujarati, and then he learned English in school. After he learned Urdu while learning the Qur’an, and finally by traveling he learned Arabic and Hindi.

Anwar(cq) organizes is a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia every other year.
In 2005 (cq)he was chosen by CNN as the official Muslim spokes person and was interviewed on the Hajj for that year.

“A group of 100 to 150(cq) people from my congregation usually joins me when I travel,” he said.

Mudassir Jamil (cq), a member of the Islamic Association in San Jose, said that Anwar (cq) is such a big part of the congregation and the individual people’s lives.

“He does everything he can for the people who look to him for help, everything from wedding arrangements, to party planning, to spiritual and personal guidance. He truly is one of a kind,’’ Jamil (cq) said.

Anwar (cq) not only works as an Imam, and he also teaches Islamic Studies at Granada Islamic School, in Silicon Valley, gives lectures at universities nationally, and actively pursues outreach and community service work.

In Santa Clara County Anwar (cq) works as a Muslim chaplain for prisoners at the Elmwood Correctional Facility. (cq)

“He is trying to establish religion in a place where people need it the most,” said Bob Feldman (cq), who is responsible for the correctional facilities staff.

Anwar said that he would also like to work on creating a place of worship in hospitals because people in pain turn to God

“The work that he does to bridge the gaps in Muslim communities and communities in the Bay Area are helpful,” Jamil (cq) said. “If there were more Muslims like him, I don’t think there would be as many labels on us.”

He has published a lecture and compiled a CD entitled: “Performing Hajj- A Practical Guide to the Journey of a Lifetime (cq),” about the pilgrimage, or Hajj, which is the fifth pillar of Islam.

The pillars of Islam are the basic beliefs, in that Allah and Muhammad as his prophet, in prayer, charity, fasting, and in making a pilgrimage to Mecca.

“Religion is what I live for and I love it,” said Anwar (cq). “It is the most rewarding kind of work.”

Big Air Extravaganza!

Check out this multimedia piece I did on the Big Air snowboarding, skating, and motor cross event!

Pacifica Gets Big Air

The Big Air Extravaganza brought snow, skateboards and a 50-foot jump for motor cross riders to the parking lot of Sea Bowl, a bowling alley in Pacifica, CA. The event, which took place Sept. 22, was put on for local and professional talents to showcase their skills.

The crowd of about 3,000 ranged from professionals to families to fans. There were also amateur bands that played from 10 a.m. to 9p.m.

A kid’s corner was set up for families with an Astro Jump and a few carnival games while a mechanical bull and beer garden was set up for older audiences.

Rain threatened the festivities in the early morning, but no one seemed to mind a slight drizzle that lifted half way through the day.

“Those pros, they can ride on slush, ice, they can ride on anything as long as it’s slippery. They will kill themselves trying and people want to see wipe outs too,” said Aaron Wright, who is in charge of the video filming and making T-shirts.

Tait’s Boardshop put on the event along with sponsors Red Bull, Samuel Adams, and Hooters.

Prizes were divvied up by sport, with 50 snowboarders competing- for a $1500 prize. There was also a skate competition that took place on an amateur street course. The competition was judged by skating legend Christian Hosoi. The award was a cash prize of $500.

Good Eats at Home

In the Castro you can make yourself at Home next to a roaring fire, on a comfy couch, with a delicious plate of comfort food for a price that leaves room in your wallet for a Home-made-dessert.

Home is known for its cozy dishes like the signature macaroni and cheese, spicy fried chicken, and banana bread pudding. All of the tasty food you crave on a foggy night in the city that brings you back to those memories of eating a hot meal at home.

When you walk in to Home the smell of gravy makes your mouth water. There are “Best of the Bay” and “Bargain Bites” awards, and articles that cover the entryway walls. A friendly host immediately greets you, and guides you to a small table, where instead of a chair you sit on a plush red couch.

The restaurant is decorated in an old country theme, with white wash walls, handsome hardwood floors, and red tea candles at every table. There are old-fashioned nick knacks and signs that read things like: “Corona Quality Ice Cream.”

To start the meal, Home has a selection of more than 40 different kinds of wine and a list of a dozen specialty cocktails.

The Homegirl is a fruity and delicious cosmopolitan with a champagne twist that goes down easy. It comes highly recommended.

The menu offers a wide variety of savory cuisine that caters to all different kinds of palates. There is a special everyday of the week, and the choices range from chicken potpie with “Home” made crust to cherry cola baby back ribs with macaroni salad.

Home also has an early bird special from five to six p.m., which is a three-course mail from a fixed menu and a glass of house wine.

The main menu serves American classics like the hearty meatloaf topped with heavy brown gravy, and accompanied by a side of sweet glazed carrots ($10.95).

Thick flavorful tomato soup that comes with a side of grilled cheese bites leaves you licking your lips for more and costs a modest $6.

If you like to spice things up a little try the Thursday night special: corn flake fried chicken smothered with spicy gravy, on top of a large helping of potato puree, with a side of sweet coleslaw.

Although all of the dishes are yummy, the best, by far, is the award-winning macaroni and cheese.

This mac ‘n’ cheese definitely did not come out of a blue box. The side dish or dish to share is made from small macaroni noodles mixed with white cheddar cheese, sprinkled with crushed breadcrumbs and chives ($6). Each bite is heavenly and temporarily causes you to forget your low-fat diet.

At Home dessert is a must. The assortment varies from a sorbet cookie bowl to black and white molten chocolate cake. Home is known for its’ killer banana bread pudding that contains the freshest ingredients and is made daily.

The peanut butter cup milkshake is heavenly. The ice cream that they use is “Home” made everyday and so is the vanilla whipped cream. The shake is mixed together and topped with huge peanut butter cups. If you want to splurge on dessert this is the place to do it.

There were only a few glitches at this restaurant. The service is friendly, but they are not always there when you need them and the restaurant is very load. The tables are so close together you find yourself talking over the table next to you.

All in all, if you are feeling homesick for a plate of comfort food, Home is just a few districts away.

Finding Meaning in the Eyes of Children

Last summer, on a sweltering afternoon that smelled like sewage and wet pavement, my study abroad group drove seven hours to Chang Mai in Northern Thailand.

Upon arrival, we were anxious to deliver the toys we bought for children at a local orphanage.

Our guide, Chalita, told us these children were either left on the streets, the orphanage, or the doorsteps of wealthy houses because their families couldn't care for them.

When we got there, I entered the children's playroom and saw 20 questioning eyes looking at me.

I took the toy dolls, helicopters and bubbles out of the garbage bags and passed them around. Their faces lit up when they received these gifts.

It was as if they had never had their own toys.

They played with their gifts and sat in our laps as we took pictures of them. I videotaped the entire experience, and they loved when I flipped the viewfinder so they could see their faces.

They laughed and poked at it trying to figure out how the image was possible. I don't think they had seen themselves up-close before.

We took turns holding and tickling them, trying to fill the void that probably would never be filled.

Standing there, I thought their life seemed like a constant day-care experience with a swing set and schoolwork, except that they never went home to tell their family what had happened each day.

They couldn't draw pictures to put on the refrigerator or make art crafts for the holidays.

They did not have a history to tell the other children because they have no idea who they are or where they came from.

They just stayed and stayed, with the hope that one day they might have something or someone to call home.

These faces were so sweet, so oblivious to not only their situation, but also everything around them.

We went to the baby section, where the little babies in their diapers bobbed up and down for us to hold them. We danced with them pretending to be mommies and daddies just for a moment.

One baby I held cried hysterically when I put him down. I felt so horrible, but this was probably a routine. They were held for a second only to be put down for another child.

As we snuggled these babies, Chalita told us we had to leave. As we put them down, they wrapped their arms and legs around our ankles. They all cried at us while we cried with them, empathetic of how they must have felt.

To give love and to show warmth, even though it was fleeting, was wonderful. This small encounter humbled me and jolted an epiphany inside me. I instantly realized that all of the materialism and greed around me was an illusion.

I know now that there is so much I take for granted: the shoes on my feet, a bar of soap, a full-sized bed and being able to go home and give my mom a hug. It's easy to forget about these simple comforts that are provided for us.

We worry so much about our own embarrassments, but we need to open our eyes and see there is so much more to life.

Notable Now.

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