Visiting Todoroki, a forest in the middle of the city

Tokyo often throws up surprises. In the middle of the busy Setagaya ward there is a kilometre long stretch of dense forest that runs along a small river. Walking along the river you could easily pretend that you are in another prefecture or perhaps another world. The Todoroki valley is just ten minutes walk from Todoroki station. Pack some Onigiri or a small bento and you can have a nice picnic by the water.

The love of free food

I dropped in to this cafe in Kuala Lumpur. I was surprised to hear the girls working there speak Khmer. Most wait staff in these parts are from Vietnam or Myanmar. They were equally curious about me when I got them to play some Khmer songs from my phone. There was this one girl, who came to chat with me. Not yet 20, she had left her home to support the education of her younger sibling after both her parents had passed away. Unlike the others in the shop, she was not glued to her smartphone. She said she liked talking to the customers, it helped her learn English and Chinese.

We spoke of life in Cambodia, the recent politics - seems she followed the news online, and the food. I said I missed the food the most. She offered to share her dinner. I accepted. She had made simple chicken porridge, she brought out a bowl and poured out a generous helping, even added a select piece of meat, and pepper and lime. 

I am never the one to miss free food. Free food always tastes better. Because more often than not, free food is offered out of love, and there is no better garnish than the affection we share with people who start as strangers, but soon enough we find some connection with them - even if it is something as trivial as mutual liking for an old Khmer song or common interest in latest political gossip from back home.

Oral hygiene in the land of strong people

In our Pakistan and Afghanistan, this is how the strong folks brush their teeth. You bite off a bit of the bark of the "miswak" (arak tree twig) to expose the fibrous core, and scrub your teeth. The juice destroys bacteria. Don't need any of that paste. You can use a twig for a week. I also remember using rolled mango leaves and neem twigs for oral hygiene in childhood days. Let me know if you want to try the miswak, I usually have a few fresh twigs in my bag.

Taking the wrong bus

"And the heat. Your shirt is straightaway a rag. You can hardly remember your name, or what you came to escape from. But at night, there's a breeze. The river is beautiful."

Tourane, now known as Danang. 

The quote is from the movie "The Quiet American". It was filmed in the nearby town of Hoi An. Danang is my favorite city in VN, even though no one ever goes there much. If you are here, you are probably transiting, or you took the wrong bus. I often take the wrong bus.


The contraband

You hear Thai voices outside and you know that the van it is here. The larger immigrant community in Johor have their own ethnic hangouts, but the smaller ones have to make do with such mobile stores. The van has stuff from all over Thailand - condiments, snacks and food. Half a dozen Thai women are around the truck, grabbing the best stuff. I know better not to join the raid - I won't stand a chance.  These ladies are from the neighbourhood Thai spas. They get stronger by the day, squeezing, stretching, and manipulating out of shape, big car driving neighbourhood clientele. I let them have their pick. I concentrate all my mental gaze on that box of pad kra pao gai (minced chicken), hoping that I can make it invisible till the ladies leave. 

HappyCamp Saigon, taking about travels, books and life

Saigon has always been an interesting city and people here are always exploring new ideas. I wanted to get some folks together and talk about travel, books and life in general. My old friend Cong was also interested in talking about happiness. So we created a meet called Happycamp. 

For the first edition, we managed to bring together two educators, a writer, a photographer, two students and two travel enthusiasts. We went round the table and narrated a past experience. I always enjoy running such small meets, it helps me get the mood of the city - the zeitgeist if you will. 

 


Soap, shampoo and shaving gel alternatives

Often on the road, I ended up spending a lot of time looking for small bottles of soaps and shampoos. The airport security will get you to dispose bigger bottles and tubes. I wasn’t happy making more mess in this world of ours. For some time I have been looking for natural replacement.

At Fernloft Hostel, Singapore.

I am using lime juice as soap and shampoo. I have found that lime juice substitutes well as a deodorant too. Coconut oil is great for shaving, no need of shaving gel or foam. And you don’t need moisturizer after the shave.I am experimenting using eucalyptus oil as a replacement for chemical mosquito repellent.