Takoyaki laments

Your are born of flour and octopus bits. Born as a shapeless dollop, the woman keep prodding you, turning you and shaping you. You are so happy to have such a lovely mom. But just when your heart swells and you turn brown, the mom packs you in a box and off you go.


The cutest bookseller in the world

A part of my heart is lost in Rangoon, somewhere between street 27 and 28, across the Scotts market on Montgomery Street. This is where I met the world's cutest bookseller. Every visit to her bookshop ended up in me finding a book on Burmese history, and trying to negotiate the price down, and the cutest bookseller always winning. Don't tell her that I let her win, just to see that victorious smile. One more week, and I would have ended up as the leading authority on the nation's history.  You can travel half the world but there is no point, if you can't make a little girl smile.

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

Look at my bag (the one on the left) as I enter China sometimes in late 1990s. I used to get carried away and pack everything that I might need. Over the years, as I discover new fabrics, technology etc, and as I learn to live with less and less stuff, I have been trimming what to carry. This is my current arrangement.

Most important is the bag. The brand doesn't matter as long as it is somewhat waterproof and sturdy. 

The stuff inside, I use mesh case for packing sundry stuff, as some airport security wants to visually inspect stuff and mesh is a good material to pack razors, tooth brush and moist swimwear, helping them dry faster.

  • one case for the charger and cables, keys, currencies and cards for other destinations
  • one case for toiletries (some airport security like to able to visually inspect stuff)
  • one case for swimwear
  • the larger case packs one or two change of clothes
  • a notebook - doubles as storage for tickets, maps etc
  • iPad for writing and presentations
A phone and a custom made wallet go into my pocket. I usually get a inner pocket stitched on my trousers for safe keeping the passport, some cash and a spare bank card. 

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 two change of clothes (in addition to what I am wearing). I experimented a lot with different fabrics and brands finally settled on these for their easy availability across East Asia, and the fact they dry in a couple of hours. 

The bag with all the stuff inside weights less than 4 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.