Beach combing in Niigata

Back in 2008,we went beach combing in Niigata (North West Japan). We found a bottle that had floated in from North Korea across the Sea of Japan (North Korea, China, Russia and South Korea are on the other side of the sea). We went back today to see if we can find something interesting. Nothing from North Korea this time, but enough stuff from China and South Korea.

The giant concrete tetrapods are breakers used to reduce the energy of the waves to prevent soil erosion.

Books and Trips and down by the delta

I like the Mekong delta, specially at night. Everything burns in the day. Your shirt is a rag with sweat. But at night there is a cool breeze, distant thump of a motor boat crossing the river, It is like the whole universe was made, humans evolved and split into cultures, just so that on a night like this, you could overload your senses with lovely faces reflecting the glow of street food lights and sticky-rice-spicy-chicken.

Back in Saigon, we had yet another session of Trips and Books. "The Little Prince" and "Old Man and the Sea" were most discussed. As for destinations - Burma seemed to be everyones favourite. One of our participants bakes some cakes for us. 


Missing the Krasue

Anyone up for a horror movie? I miss the floating severed head with hanging entrails ghost in Cambodian movies. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krasue


We also had a readcamp, discussed books on economy, education and some fictions that deal with the theme of living away from ones birth country.

Come..ours is not a caravan of despair, the ethnic enclave in Kuala Lumpur

My hobby is collecting secret places in the cities I frequent. On some days, when the sky is deep blue, and if some little kid smiles at me, I feel magnanimous, and reveal my secrets to the folks around me. Last Sunday, I shared some of the ethnic enclaves in Kuala Lumpur with a colourful bunch - some residents and some travelers. We went to a Burmese place, where ladies in thanaka and lyongi served us tea and mohinga. Next we climbed up a narrow staircase past a Rambo Supermart (perhaps they sell supplies to take over a small country)  for some Nepalese momo. For desserts, we explored the Filipino enclave for halo halo. The survivors of this intrepid trek ended up at what is probably the cheapest and most colourful watering hole in KL. Next time, I am in KL, I will reveal the only Cambodian cafe in the city. Come if you are keen, ours is not a caravan of despair.

Earlier, I was in Saigon, yet another city that is full of secret places. I met some more lovers of leaving, and talked about getting lost in far away lands. 

And in Djakarta, I miss the conversations in the park.


The art of traveling light

If you are planning to travel in South East Asia (or in China, Korea, Japan in spring and summer), you don't need to pack much. Over the years, I have been trimming my bag as I discover new fabrics, technology etc. This is my current arrangement.

Most important is the bag. The brand doesn't matter as long as it is somewhat waterproof and sturdy. Mine is "Product No 98" by Ichizawa, a Kyoto based canvas bag maker. I like it for its simplicity, and utilitarian looks. 

The stuff inside - from left to right

  • the bag itself
  • swimwear sealed in a ziplock bag
  • a small mesh case packs a charger and cables 
  • a small sealable case that holds the various currencies, SIM cards, and postage stamps for postcards
  • another case contains quick relief for common ailments - paracetamol and charcoal pills for stomach
  • another case to hold keys, and a small lock for guesthouse or swimming pool lockers
  • a transparent mesh bag for toiletries (some airport security like to able to visually inspect stuff)
  • a soft foldable hat - it is waterproof
  • the black zipper bag contains one or two change of clothes depending on how long my trip is for. 
  • a burner phone (good to have these for charge longevity, I usually slot in a voice only prepaid sim from my home region or a region around me with cheapest roaming rates)
  • a small notebook - doubles as storage for tickets, maps etc

A phone and a small wallet go into my pocket. I usually get a inner pocked stitched on my trousers for the passport, some cash and a spare bank card. I am quite used to typing long text on the phone. If I need to use a computer - I usually raid the guesthouse computer, working mostly on Google docs. I have the Google 2 factor authentication enabled.

Light, quick drying clothes are my favourites. Uniqlo's easy pants and Muji's Indian cotton shirts complete the sartorial department. The maximum I carry is three change of clothes - just wash and dry.

The bag with all the stuff inside probably weighs about or less than 2 kilograms. Carrying a small bag makes you more mobile, you can get in and out of the flights, trains faster. If I need anything beyond this, I usually buy them locally at a supermarket. 

New Years beverage

This  kombucha (dried seaweed) tea comes looking like shishi- mai (獅子舞) - the lion dance lion. You drop him in a cup, pour hot water and wait for a couple of minutes. Your patience will be rewarded with kombucha and a small chewy snack





Hiding places, Anh Cafe in Saigon

I miss cold war movies. There would often be a scene where some western agent would be interrogating a soviet spy. The spy would be tortured, asked to reveal his hideout. Groaning with pain, yet resolute, the comrade will mumble "Nyet!! kapitalisticheskaya sobaka - never!! capitalist pig!!". Well, you don't even have to tickle me - or play k-pop in endless loop, I am happy to reveal my hideouts. This particular one in Saigon is called Anh Cafe just behind the Ben Thanh Market. Spot a building trying to one up the Bitexco tower, it may not have the hight but is probably more carbon neutral with the green wall. The entry is hidden away, a narrow walkway between two shops with the walls decorated with photos. Hike up the staircase into my well appointed hideout. If you see me, say the code phrase "Привет, незнакомец", the coffee will be on me.

Stories in Saigon

The future of learning is already here. It is called communities. We had an interesting bunch - Travelers, educators, tech folks, readers and writers sharing stories of their recent adventures.

Nostalgic food from all over

Random food and beverages from my several homes. Growing up in parts of India, you often come across the Jamun tree. The fruit has a purple bitter sweet flesh. This drink from India tries to capture the flavour for urban people who miss jamun picking. Next is a popular rice cake from Hanoi, North Vietnam (thanks to childhood friend Trang for getting it for me). This cake is made by a family business in the Hang Than Street - that had many similar rice cake shops. Nguyen means origin, and Ninh is derived from the name of the hometown (Yen Ninh) of the original owner of the cake shop. Last is a well being/health drink from Indonesia, contains honey and several herbs. You can buy these sachets from convenience stores or small shops across Indonesia.