Unusual Sign – Sounds painful!

Pic Courtesy of Kiwigypsy’s brother

This one was spotted in the Marlborough region of New Zealand.

Sounds very painful. I wonder if they get many customers?

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Sri Lanka – The Resplendent Isle

Sri Lanka - The Resplendent Isle

We decided to go to Sri Lanka for a week to celebrate my birthday. I had debated it for a while as a friend had said not to bother as it is just like South India. Somewhere I read the sage advice that “opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one and they all stink” and bearing this in mind I decided to disregard the aforementioned friend’s comments and investigate for myself.
Boy, am I glad that I did. Sri Lanka means resplendent island in Sanskrit and after 9 days there I have fallen in love with the place. To be fair to my friend it is a bit like Southern India……… but different too. There are parts that remind me of Kerala and Goa whilst other things remind me of Thailand and Singapore. The clothes are different, and the food whilst similar does at the same time have distinct differences. It is quieter, less crowded and less frenetic than its larger more populous neighbor and in fact many Westerners I met who have made Sri Lanka home, commented that it is “India-lite”. I can’t quite put my finger on what the differences are but comparing Sri Lanka with India is like comparing Australia with New Zealand. On the face of it similar countries/cultures but actually on deeper examination quite different.
The lush green scenery and the wonderful food make me want to return again and again, the 9 days that I was there were not nearly long enough and there is still so much for me to see. The good thing is that it is only an hour’s flight from Bangalore making it quicker to get to than Mumbai and double entry visas are easily attainable online.
But overall it is the people who make a place and the smiling and friendly people of this island nation were always welcoming and helpful. Hindu mythology has an epic story called the Ramayana in which the 10 headed demon King Ravana kidnaps Sita from India and takes her back to his kingdom in Lanka. However based on the interactions I had with the gentle people of Serendib, I have to wonder if like most of history, events may have been reinterpreted along the way. As a friend commented in Hindi “Joh jeeta wohi Sikander” which loosely translated, means he who wins is the conqueror and therefore in this context, the victor, Lord Ram who defeats Ravana and takes back Sita, dictated how the story is told. However at the risk of offending any Hindu readers out there (which is not my intention at all) I offer the conjecture that maybe Sita fell in love with this beautiful island and its smiling handsome king and decided to emigrate?

Racism rears it’s ugly head again!

racism_is_only_for_humans_by_xxdbzcancucksfanxx-d4pe36rI like to think that people are basically good. So nothing makes me angrier than racial discrimination.

I have been fortunate enough to live in many different countries in the world and I have learnt that deep down we are all the same. No one race or culture is good or bad.

As the Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “there are two races of men in this world, but only these two – the ‘race’ of the decent man and the ‘race’ of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people. In this sense, no group is of ‘pure race”.

Being a white guy I was pretty insulated from racism growing up. My school and college were fairly multi-cultural and kids any way just get on with life. It doesn’t matter where your class mates are from, they are just your mates.

However once I started travelling I encountered racial discrimination more and more. While living in Hong Kong for example I often saw Hong Kong people holding their noses while sitting next to Indians on the bus and even refusing to sit next to anyone from the African continent.

When I returned to New Zealand, a country I thought was open and accepting of all, was shocked to see my (Indian) wife refused service in shops and excluded from conversations because the other person assumed she couldn’t speak English.

Now living in India where my skin color puts me in the minority it is my turn to experience discrimination. I have been excluded from temples (See here), had distant relatives refuse to shake my hand at my wedding, and of course I have lost count of the numerous times I have heard that many of the problems in India are because of the West. To top it all off, yesterday I was told that as I am a Westerner I have no manners, values or culture. This too by a man I caught stealing the neighbor’s water from their storage tank!

To be honest the majority of the people I come into contact with treat me very well, and I have been welcomed and accepted into people’s homes, families and communities.

But it makes my blood boil when small minded people make a judgment about someone based on where they were born and brought up.

Come on guys! Get on with it, stop discriminating and judging. It doesn’t matter where you are from or what you believe in, at the end of the day we are all pink inside, bleed red when we are cut and all have to sit down to take a dump!

 

The fascinating Global Village we call Home!

Ganesha

The Boss and I were in Pondicherry last weekend. Pondicherry is a part of India which was once ruled by the French. It still retains a lot of Gallic influences and it is not uncommon to hear French spoken on the streets.

Wedding Decorations
We were there to attend a wedding. A wedding with a Mexican Bride and an Indian Groom in a resort owned by an Indian adopted by a French couple and now residing in France. The Bride and Groom met in the U.S. and now reside in Bangalore.

Mopping the Grooms Brow!

Mopping the Grooms Brow!

People had come from all over the world. 90 people had traveled over 20 hours by train from the cyclone hit state of Orissa to be with the Groom, many still without power in their homes.
The couple’s meditation teacher traveled 24 hours by train to lead a meditation and blessing on the morning of the wedding.

Wedding Paparazzi

Wedding Paparazzi

The first guest I met was a Spaniard whose nickname is Kiwi, given to him after spending 6 years in New Zealand. He has now lived in India for 11 years and speaks Tamil!
I met a French speaking Mexican from Montreal. Mexicans from Australia, from the United States. A Greek from New York. A Dane and his Mexican wife, ……… they met in Hungary.

I met a girl from Estonia. The first Estonian I have ever met. She had come with her Mexican boyfriend whom she met in Cambodia.

I met a delightful Mother and daughter from Guatemala. The daughter was born in Kenya.

A Colombian couple, she from Chicago, he from London. A French girl ( who is also English – see comments below) living in Mexico City.
And then there is us. A Kiwi married to an Indian after meeting in Hong Kong and who now live in India. A Kiwi who was born in Cyprus, to a mother from New Zealand, whose own parents were from England and Scotland. To an English father who was born in Bangalore and whose own father was English and mother was Anglo-Indian from Kerala.

Orissa and Mexico joined in matrimony

Orissa and Mexico joined in matrimony

It is fitting that the wedding took place in Pondicherry the spiritual home of Mirra Alfassa, a French lady born to a Turkish father and Egyptian mother and who made India her home. Known as The Mother, she established the nearby township of Auroville, the city of human unity, in 1964 and it is now home to over 43 different nationalities.
To quote The Mother:
“Auroville is meant to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony, above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realize human unity.”
On a smaller scale this wedding did the same.
A lot of new friendships were born during the celebrations. Friendships which will lead to new and wonderful experiences.
As the bride said to me after the wedding: “the circle expands”

Hong Kong Hustle!

I have been off the blogging radar for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately the demands of earning enough to pay for my wildly extravagant lifestyle got in the way. It has had it’s advantages and disadvantages though. The advantages are that the Boss and I got to spend a couple of weeks in Hong Kong  and Singapore. The disadvantage was that because of the nature of my work (Guns, Drugs and People smuggling) I spent a lot of that time in windowless Hotel function rooms talking inanities with clients about stuff that in the big picture of life makes no difference to anything.
The highlight of the trip for me though was to return to Hong Kong, my home for 7 years previously and the place where I met, wooed, and swept the Boss off her feet. (She regrets it now!)
Hong Kong will always hold a soft spot in my heart. When the Boss and I first left and moved back to New Zealand we used to seek out noisy Cantonese Restaurants so we could feel at home. Luckily we get the chance to revisit quite often and every time it is exciting. It’s an inspiring place, filled with a buzz that grips you and carries you along. Everywhere there is some form of sensory stimulus, whether amongst the teeming crowds in Central at lunch time or on a ferry trip to one of the outlying islands, watching the myriad vessels of all shapes and sizes passing by.
It has also changed a lot since I was a resident. And I don’t mean the obvious continual development of towering buildings. Walking around the business district of Central at lunch time I was struck by the many young cool looking and smartly dressed HK people speaking in American accented English, the offspring of those who fled to Canada and the US ahead of the handover to the Chinese in 1997.Returned to the country of their birth, well-educated, polished and eager to partake in making HK their own.
Areas like Sheung Wan in the Western part of HK Island have transformed from the predominantly Chinese trading houses to wine bars, cigar lounges and “private kitchens”. The area known as SoHo (South of Hollywood Rd) in its infancy when I left, has expanded and is filled with restaurants and bars of all persuasions, successfully toppling Lan Kwai Fong from its position as the nightlife hub.
And the famous Shanghai Tang Store in Pedder Street, purveyor of Chinese clothing with a modern twist has been replaced by Abercrombie and Fitch, whose store is staffed by very buff young Chinese men stripped to the waist, flexing their abs and pecs as they assist their customers. For all my female readers (and maybe some of the men?) I apologise for not taking photos, but taking photos of half-naked men for the edification of my readers is a point where I draw the line.
An experience one evening summed up what life in HK is like. Winding down in the Captain’s Bar of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel one evening after a stressful day, with a client and friend. It was midnight on a Wednesday. At the next table an expat was fast asleep, still in his suit and tie, while his friend studiously ignored him and nibbled on a bowl of almonds. On the other side a couple of American Chinese guys in brightly coloured pants and suede loafers sipped single malts and listened as the African-American woman with a bleached blonde Afro sang mellow jazz tunes. The bar was full and showed no signs of closing for the night.

Silver Tankard
My friend emptied his silver tankard and turned to me. “Wednesday night in HK! Do you know what Wednesday night is in Melbourne?” he asked. “It’s bin night! At this time of the evening I’m struggling down a dark alley dragging a smelly wheelie bin out to the street in the pouring rain!”

Culinary indulgence in Bangkok

We started our Bangkok food trip at the Intercontinental with the most deliciously presented coffee we have ever seen, complete with sugar on a stick!

This is how coffee should be served!

This is how coffee should be served!

White Tea and Matcha cookies

White Tea and Matcha cookies

Afternoon Tea at the Intercontinental Bangkok

We ended our trip with this: New Zealand Pinot Noir, Banana and Yoghurt smoothie, and a Coffee Cake. This was just mine, The Boss had a glass of water!

 

I flew to Bangkok for Lunch!

I flew to Bangkok for lunch!
I’ve always wanted to be able to say something like that. I remember as a kid reading about the fabulously rich arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi and how when he got the urge for pasta he would jump in his private jet and fly to Italy.
Apart from the private jet part, I almost did something similar.
Late last year The Boss and I had spent 3 months in Bangkok as a prelim to moving there. After 3 months we had come back to India to renew our visas planning to return to Thailand after a month, however a family member’s poor health had scuttled those plans and we remained in India. We had, though, left 2 suitcases full of possessions in a friend’s apartment and when it looked like we wouldn’t be returning anytime soon, had to organize a way of reuniting ourselves with our belongings.
Sending them by unaccompanied baggage or by courier was ridiculously expensive and I soon discovered that it would be cheaper for both of us to fly there, pick up the bags, satisfy our craving for Thai food and fly back again.
So the plan was hatched to catch the night time flight to Bangkok, arrive in the morning, pick up the bags, spend the day roaming Bangkok, stuff ourselves with every eatable we could find, and fly back in the evening.

But then I thought, why rush back? I had some hotel loyalty points so I booked us in to the Intercontinental for a free night (35,000 points) and off we went.
Normally when we go to Thailand we stay in pretty inexpensive hotels as you can get a nice clean place for not too much money. Although when we stayed for 3 months we were lucky that it coincided with a  Grand Mercure  50% off flash sale and we managed to get a serviced apartment for that period at a ridiculously cheap rate.
This would be the first time in a luxury hotel in Bangkok so I was pretty excited. I was feeling very proud of myself that we were staying for a night for free until I heard the young Arab gentleman beside me booking himself into a suite for 6 nights!
We arrived early morning so we were lucky a room was available and the check-in staff also upgraded us to the executive rooms. One look at the massive room they had given us on the 29th floor and Executive room at Intercontinental Bangkokwe decided to book another night!Executive room at Intercontinental Bangkok
I cannot recommend the Intercontinental highly enough. The staff are superb, the rooms are wonderful, and the location is excellent, right next to the Chidlom Sky Train Station, and walking distance to the major malls.
The executive rooms come with access to the lounge on the top floor. This is normally included in the price of the room but as we were staying free, we would have to pay extra. At first we wondered if it was worth it at THB1500 per person, but discovered it included breakfast, afternoon tea, and happy hour so decided to splurge. Reading the instructions and noting that a smart standard of dress is required; we dressed carefully and arrived for breakfast. The first person we saw was eating breakfast in her pajamas, and then we saw two other westerners, in un-ironed clothes and running shoes, their hair in the same shape it was when it was crushed against their pillows 15 minutes earlier!

View from the Intercontinental Bangkok
The views at breakfast were stunning. The lounge is on the 37th floor and there are no tall buildings around so one is afforded panoramic views of the city.
Breakfast was good, afternoon tea was ok, but the real value comes at happy hour. Unlimited drinks and snacks from 5.30pm til 8pm! I discovered they had a lovely New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and then sat back watching the sunset and ensured the New Zealand wine industry would not be going out of business any time soon. The Boss sipped on her fancy umbrella-adorned mocktail and filled up on satay and chicken samosas.
Thirst quenched and Tommy’s voracious appetite temporarily quelled, we entered the lift. A Singaporean guest stood inside and was staring at me intently. Assuming he was admiring my ravishing movie star good looks, I was disappointed to hear him say after about 30 secs of scrutiny “I thought you were Edward Snowden and I wondered how you had got here from Russia!”

Snakes are charming!

Pic Credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/justinbaeder/

Pic CreditJustin Baeder

Last night we spotted a snake outside our front door. I rushed out with my camera phone but it was too dark to get a good pic and I stood by as it slithered slowly past and into the storm water drain.
I love snakes and having grown up in New Zealand where there are no dangerous animals consequently I don’t have any fear of them. When I see them I just want to pick them up.
The Boss however is completely different. One mention of the “S” word and she is terrified and she didn’t sleep all night convinced that it was going to climb the wall into our bedroom and sink it’s fangs into her while she slept.
She is not alone in her fear. Most people here in India are so scared that it almost borders on the irrational and will go to the extent of concreting their gardens and removing all leaves to prevent any snake habitat.
A couple of years ago I heard screams from the garden and rushed outside to find the maid cowering in fear and screaming “sarp, sarp” ( snake in the local language). Looking in the direction she was pointing I saw a 2m long snake disappearing around the corner and rushed after it. Ignoring the screams from my family I tried to get closer but hearing my approach, the snake took off at an amazing speed down the path and promptly climbed a 2.5 m high wall and disappeared into the park behind our house. The maid was convinced it was a cobra and took a while to stop trembling. However it was in fact a harmless rat snake, non- venomous and having the reputation of being the fastest snake in India, hence the speed at which it set off down the path.
On another occasion I was in Tamil Nadu and discovered a snake charmer by the side of the road. Upon seeing my interest he whipped the top off his basket and out popped two very bad tempered cobras. Fascinated, I, along with a rapidly gathering crowd, moved closer, however as the cobras expressed their displeasure by lunging towards us soon found myself all alone as all the other onlookers scattered. The thought that I might be in danger didn’t once cross my mind, instead I looked around to see where everyone had gone. In retrospect I realise that I may have been a bit stupid but I was just caught up in seeing these beautiful creatures up close. I also suspect the snake charmer had probably defanged his snakes anyway.
I once stayed in a small hotel in Mangalore, and when hearing a commotion outside, went out and found all the kitchen staff outside on the lawn shouting “snake snake”. I went into the kitchen to have a look and sure enough under a cabinet found the object of terror. A baby snake all of 40cms in length. I managed to free it into the garden after about 15 mins and with a complete lack of assistance from the quivering staff.
Maybe if I had grown up here and had the fear of snakes instilled in me from a young age things would be different. Maybe one day I will get bitten and I will be just as afraid.
But in the meantime, I don’t see what the fuss is about, and there don’t seem to be that many around. I have seen about 5 in the wild in the almost 10 years (cumulatively) I have spent in India. Perhaps I am stupid, but any opportunity I can get, I will jump at the chance get a closer look.
Just don’t tell the Boss!

 

Sleepless in Hong Kong, Mumbai, Bangalore – Sleep Deprivation in Asia’s Big Cities!

Sleepless in Mumbai

My upstairs neighbour’s early morning walks are ruining my health!
Why?
Because she is taking them at 1 am in the room above my bedroom!
4 steps one way, turn, 4 steps back! It’s an improvement though. For a while she used to do early morning aerobics. It was like trying to sleep while a herd of elephants performed ballet above your head!
I seem to have bad sleep karma. Wherever I have lived, the neighbours seem to want to inflict sleep deprivation upon me. As if my apartment is a CIA “black site” for them to practice “enhanced interrogation techniques” upon me.
When I lived in Hong Kong, sleep was the most precious thing I could get because I never had enough of it and any attempts at getting an early night where always thwarted by my devious neighbours.
Our habit has always been to sleep with the windows open, preferring the fan to A/C. However this has often proved to be our undoing.
The first flat that the Boss and I lived in was in the not so salubrious area in Kowloon called Whampoa Estate. Our neighbours used to like disposing of their rubbish by tossing it out the window, only for it to fall 14 floors onto the corrugated iron awning on the 1st floor with a bang sufficient to wake the dead. Hong Kong people aren’t known for sleeping early so this used to go on until the early hours of the morning.
Once we shifted to more upmarket accommodation, we were presented with a different problem.
Nearly every child in Hong Kong is made to study the piano or violin (OK a sweeping statement ……… maybe I should say that every child in every building I have lived in). The problem is that none of them have reached a standard of playing that anyone with ears would wish to be subjected to. The consequence is that they practice scales every night, ascending, descending, up and down the piano keys, over and over again. And not at 7pm or 8 pm like any good kid should, but at 11 and 12 at night! I would be lying there with the pillow over my head, cursing into the bed sheets, and eventually drifting off to sleep dreaming of being pursued by giant pianos.
The only thing worse than this was my neighbours’ love of Karaoke, a love surpassed only by their complete inability to sing tunefully.
One of the most appalling inventions of the modern age is the home Karaoke machine, an invention that should be instantly outlawed by the Geneva Convention as inhumane.
Those neighbours who didn’t have piano playing adolescents, would while away the nighttime hours by attempting to sing English love songs and ballads, in a manner that would make the most ardent lover suicidal. If you have ever witnessed dogs howling in discomfort at the sound of the Fire Siren will understand what aural torment I was subjected to.
In fact the only place where I have had a quiet night’s sleep is New Zealand but the nights are all too short due to most New Zealanders’ unreasonable eagerness to be up at the crack of dawn to go walking, running, cycling and other uncivilized behavior outside my bedroom window!

Pic Courtesy Photo Extremist

Holding hands with a Male Stranger

HPIM6007-1024x838

The young man smiled at me, put his arm around my shoulders and led me down the lane. Not feeling the need to be so tactile with a member of the same sex, I edged away from him, only for him to grab my hand tightly and arms swinging continued past the village houses, the occupants of which, sitting in their doorways grinning and whispering to each other. Worrying that he had some wicked plans for me in the back of the cow shed, I managed to free my hand from his grasp, at which point he hooked his pinky finger through mine.
Back in New Zealand, if I was to hold another guys hand while walking down the street I would probably get a punch on the nose, or at the very least unfriended on Facebook. But all this guy wanted to do was show a new friend around the place where he grew up.
Now maybe I am being sexist. If a young village girl was to lead me by the hand through the village I wouldn’t mind, in fact I would probably be quite excited, although a little fearful that the Boss might spot me. I am just not used to this much physical contact with guys. However it is very common in India to see guys walking arm in arm, holding hands or even, the dreaded, entwined pinky fingers.
The funny thing is that when I mention this to my Indian friends they deny any such thing ever happens; only to come back to me a month later admitting that yes they have finally noticed what I am talking about!