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. 

Eating well while traveling

These days, I try to prepare my own meal. Most hostels have microwave. A head of broccoli takes about 2 minutes on medium heat to cook. Cut into small pieces, place in a ziplock bag. Don’t seal the bag. Careful with the steam when you unload into a bowl. 

We like pretty

I grew up in a country, and in a time, where products were mostly designed for utility, and how they looked was secondary. In 1980s Bombay, we used to fetishize images of cars and gadgets that we glimpsed on the pages of foreign magazines. Even in the 1990s and early 2000s companies like Nokia or Dell would produce a utilitarian model for the mass and a “posh” model for those who would pay more. In the late 1990s, when I started traveling, I often heard from people that companies like Apple would never succeed in Asia, as the price point is too high, and most audiences did not care for the design. 

The other day I was in Phnom Penh, near Soriya Mall and I spotted a shop selling a slick plastic cases - not for phones - but for household cooking gas cylinders!!.  

Introducing Kimchi Dosa

It is said that Koreans form one of the biggest expatriate community in India. But what’s the point if we still have not combined the greatest frood from the two countries. As someone who was born in India but has Korean stomach, I decided to myself undertake this responsibility. Presenting the kimchi dosa.

Here is the humble dosa, a staple South Indian food. And Cabbage Kimchi from our Korea.

Combine the two and you get healthy and crunchy Kimchi Dosa.

Takadanobaba, the Little Myanmar of Tokyo

In Tokyo, if you miss Burmese food, the best place to go is Takadanobaba. This neighbourhood is where a lot of people from Myanmar live in Tokyo. Hence, there are many Burmese restaurants and shops here. This area is not as dense as Singapore’s Peninsula Plaza but you can still find good Myanmar food within 10 minutes walk out of the station.

Takadanobaba is on the Yamanote line. If you are heading to Shin Okubo to explore the Korean town, you can include Takadanobaba in your trip (it is the next station). Once you are in Takadanobaba, take the Waseda exit. 

As soon as you are out you will see the dark Tak 11 building. When you exit the station, the building is just across the street. This building has many restaurants and shops from Myanmar. I visited a Shan food restaurant on the ground floor. Even managed to score some free dessert. To the left of this Tak 11 building (when you face it), there is a small lane. This lane has some more Burmese restaurants. Towards end of the row of shops, you will find Shwe Myanmar. There is one more in the building just before it. And they have Mohinga, the favourite dish many in Myanmar. 

Good Day Books, a delightful little English bookshop in Tokyo

We love small independent bookstores. And this one is special as I find that they have a dedicated espionage section. This bookstore is centrally located just a couple of minutes walk from Gotanda station. I was happy to find a 1960s travelogue on Russia. 

Walking direction from Gotanda Station. Keep walking along the train line towards Meguro and you will see the building. 

Kotaraya Complex in Kuala Lumpur – The place to go when you miss the Philippines

Want to try some Halo Halo? This is the nearby shopping mall on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock. You will see this building while crossing over the the Burma Town from Chinatown. On the upper floors of this building, you will find shops and eateries from the Philippines. It is not as big as Singapore’s Lucky Plaza (no Jollybee too) but you can find Halo Halo here. It cost RM 5. Note the mobile company ad behind. This company sells subscription to view on demand content on mobile for many expat communities. The top floor of the building has some 1990s style gaming arcades and a food court that serves food from some South East Asian countries.

Address of the building and link to map

Kompleks Kotaraya , 3-70A Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock City Centre 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia,101.696493,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x31cc49d176670423:0xb20b5391903b889a

Time travel via outdated travel guides

While some may celebrate the current state of travel  – with the nets and webs and the convenience of maps on mobile telephones, I miss the days when the world was young. The days, when closer to the equator,  we were told to avoid taking photos in the noon lest we overexpose the camera films – the days when you wrote postcards in Herat, and send a telegram when you needed something urgent.  One of the ways I recreate the magic is by trawling used book shops for old travel guides.

Rangoon and Calcutta were the favorite cities for book hunters – home to large used books stores where the owners seem to know where exactly a particular book is. Now those cities have changed their names and they would rather sell pirated DVDs. Here is one of last remaining joint for book lovers  in Asia –  Junk bookstore in Kuala Lumpur.

Two floors of treasure for us to dig in. The owners seem to know the books and often they will be able to tell you where the books on a particular topic are.

My find this time round is a travel guide from 1974 – almost as old as me. The days when you could bus from Iran to Afghanistan, on to Pakistan, across India and to Nepal. And you had to buy a pass for alcohol consumption for India. And when our Djakarta was so compact. And back when Cholon was the budget accommodation hub of Saigon, not the evil Phạm Ngũ Lão. Anyways, if you are looking for some time travel, here is the address of the bookshop. It is not too far from the central market and the Chinatown area.

Exploring the Little Myanmar in Kuala Lumpur

Very close to the Central Market (and Chinatown) in Kuala Lumpur there is a Myanmar enclave. The enclave has grown over the years to entertain and feed the vibrant Myanmar community in Kuala Lumpur. The place is about 5 to 10 minutes walk from the street market at Chinatown. Just walk along Jalan Petaling until you reach Lebuh Pudu. By now, you will already start seeing the signs in Burmese script. I always hike up to this neighbourhood to get some Shan noodles and mohinga. There are several smaller Burmese restaurants up the staircases, but usually these speak no English. However, there are two restaurants on this street at the ground level, where you can use some English. The New Gantawin has English menu. My favorite here is the noodles from Shan state. Added attraction of this place is that the staff are clad in Burmese attire, complete with Thanaka paste on the face. The DVD player at the far end plays pop hits from Myanmar. Even with the English menu, chances are that you would be the only non-Myanmar person here. But do not be shy or afraid, the folks here are nice and will let you be.

I will mention the old Gantawin, just in case the New Gantawin is full. This restaurant is on the junction of Leboh Pudu and Lorong Pudu. Here, there is no English menu, but if you do find yourself here, just confidently look at the staff, and ask for Mohinga – the rice noodle soup. Ask for the Burmese tea (close to the Indian sweet milk tea) if want to spend some more time people watching. Though this neighbourhood is called Little Burma by some, it is more like a combination of Bangladesh, Nepal and Burma. Walking around here, you will find some Bangladeshi and Nepalese shops and eateries too. There is a Rambo mini-market – just in case you are planning to stock up on supplies to take down a small country. If you end up at the Nepalese restaurant, ask them for momo – Nepalese dumplings. I must add that the people working in these eateries are nice bunch and many of the younger guys enjoy talking to tourists, and are happy to give you extra serving of curry, if you compliment them on the food. Not many tourists know about this place so it is likely that you would be the only outsider here.

Some things to try

Explore the nearby building called Bangunan Cahaya Suria (google map link), this place has a Burmese Biryani Restaurant called Zayyar.   Also check out the nearby KotaRaya Complex for dessert and food from the Philippines.

Check out this link for more insights into Myanmar immigrants living in Malaysia and couple more recommendations. The Food Detective: A Burmese Food Tour

Naughty Big Data Engines

So I powered up the Android phone after many days. It had many updates. After updating, I stumbled to the Play store. The Play store had some recommendations for me.

The top item was a naughty book. Now you may think, I was searching for something naughty on this phone. Honestly, the only thing I searched for on this phone was a Podcast called “New Books in Anthropology”.

Not sure how Google interpolated from innocuous podcast to these books. I wonder if everyone gets to see such naughty books – just so that we get into the habit of downloading ebooks.

Down the page, curiously, another recommended book was on big data. Would we get tired of webs second guessing our intent?  Would we long for serendipity?