Day 12: Hanoi, Vietnam

So we are here. And it's been like a merry-go-round of emotions, sometimes just go-round and not merry at all. The reason is one word, rather country, Vietnam. It's full of contradictions.

While Laos and particularly Luang Prabang and Muong Ngoy (heaven on earth) had been beautiful, relaxing and very pleasing; from the moment we entered Dien Bien Phu... It was like entering Delhi, with different faces. Touts grabbing at your arm, poking your shoulder for attention and shouting at you (!) if you didn't pay them attention. It got worse when we took the bus from Dien Bien to Son La.

The journey from Dien Bien to Hanoi was either a plane tw0 days later or a 12-hour bus ride. We thought we were being smart when we decided on a break-journey-bus-ride. It included a stop-over in trucker-city, Son La. What a nightmare. The Lonely Planet had warned it's a town full of brothels. We ended up in one, it was near the bus stop. Why did we go there? Oh because we were short on cash by the time we reached Son La, I was getting paranoid and well, I was getting paranoid. Also, the whole shouting-poking-touching was getting to me. In Delhi, I would have solved it by punching them in the face... But you can't do that in another country. And I have never been good with being patient or polite. Especially not when someone is siddling close to me and shouting. Sigh.

But I am learning. Last night at the shady Son La guest house was not pleasant at all. The poster of a girl with one boob bared should have warned us; we were tired though. Two hours later, the sweet-but-tired looking girl sitting at the reception changed into this garish caricature of a woman with loads of makeup and a lost expression. Another women, equally garish appeared to be ordering the other girl around. Second woman was the madam. As we walked up to our room, there was a TV blaring out of another rooml; stupid me happened to look in through the window... there was a guy lying nude with women's clothes strewn on the bed. Another hour later as Partner and I tried to sleep, we heard a woman wailing from another room. It continued for 20 minutes. Then some harsh voices, couple of men, some more crying and scary, scary silence. Two hours later -- 2 am now -- I was woken up by the sound of men laughing and hooting. Partner was awake, with one hand stroking my forehead to calm me down. Thankfully it was nothing sinister, just boys watching soccer.

Anyway. After all and a rather bumpy 6-hour ride on the bus, we arrived at Hanoi. I have been surprised... but I gotta run now. Let's just say that after the initial scare and absolute disaster that could have been Vietnam, I am looking forward to it. More later. :)


Day 10: Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam

It was a bus that got us from Muong Ngoy (Luang Prabang province, Laos) to Dien Bien Phu (Dien Bien province, Vietnam). Sweaty, tired and looking forward to a feed, it took five-minutes off the bus to realise that Vietnam is very different from Laos in attitude. Aggression is the game here. That said, nothing or no one can beat the Delhi/Agra guides in aggression though. Tomorrow, we take off -- another bus or a cab perhaps -- to Hanoi. I am really excited about that city. Awesome food, steeped in history and great shopping. :D

Public transport in Vietnam is bloody interesting... unlike Laos and Thailand, which use 'Tuk-tuks' -- their version of the Delhi three-wheeler/autorickshaw -- Vietnam has a culture of bike-hopping. As in the 'taxis' are motorcycles! :)

For some weird reason that I am yet to fathom but will get to the bottom of...the women here are smiling a lot at me. And I mean, a lot. Those who've been reading this blog would know that being an occupational cynic, I respond to random sweet smiles with immediately raised levels of suspicion. So far, suspicions -- and Lonely Planet warnings -- have been for no reason. Seems the women like me. (Hmm) Let's see where it leads though...

I've learnt thankyou, welcome, hello and goodbye in three different languages. I can also count 1-10 in Lao... now I have to start the whole process with Vietnamese. Currently I am sitting at an internet cafe and it's like no other internet cafe I've seen.

There are rows of boys -- in tee shirts or school uniforms -- sitting behind me, on networked computers, playing PC games. Four are playing Age of Empires or some such strategy game against each other while five others are playing soccer. The street we are on has three such internet centres...

The internet places in Laos were expensive compared to Vietnam. In fact many things are different between the two countries. The highway for instance. The Laos highway to the border was all dusty, muddy roads and 50 metres into the Vietnam border, the roads are well made.

I could go on, but I am tired and hungry and I've spotted a massage parlour close to our hotel. So while Partner will go and check out the Dien Bien Phu military museum, I shall hopefully get yet another massage and perhaps a pedicure.

We are trying to squeeze in Cambodia as well and I am very keen on seeing some musuems there as well as in Hanoi. Tonight though, I need body servicing. Catch y'all soon.


Day 5: Off the boat, Luang Prabang

So we are in Laos now, in the state of Luang Prabang. It's bloody awesome.

Since we left Melbourne, I've had a plane ride, an 8-hour bus ride (free biscuits, Delhi Transport Corp. should take tips) and a two -day boat ride. Read that? BOAT ride. I sat on the doorway with one leg in the Mekong (Mee-Kwang) river, the wind blowing my hair, lush greenery all around. It has been great fun.

I shall continue the Chiang Mai massage story later, dont have enough time to write in detail. Got to call my parents. Dad's email reads, "Intimate location. Call mom." He treats email like a telegram. :D Also had another round of massage last night. Basically Partner and I got beaten up. :D You should have seen his face. The girls and me were cracking up. I also LOVE fishermen pants... MANY pictures, but late.r

Hope y'all are well. Gotta run....visiting a French explorer's grave, temples and more massages for today. Trying to get PArtner to hire a motorbike that he will let me ride as well. He agrees to the hiring but not to the riding. Bloody lovable chauvinist.

Haha, most people here look at us speculatively...they think I am a "for hire" chick he's picked up from Thailand or somewhere. Of course I play my part. On the boat, also managed to fool a German into believing I didn't speak English and was deaf and dumb. :D

Ok later.... mwah.


Day 1: Chiang Mai, on your back please

Nothing like a bit of shaking up the old system when out backpacking. So we landed at Chiang Mai, Thailand yesterday. The swine flu feeling was even stronger here as all airport officials at immigration and customs wore white masks. I was wearing a short green dress with black tights and a sweater... Melbourne has been cold and inside the plane and airport as well it was quite cool. Stepping outside the airport though was instant toast... with some honey on it perhaps.
Chiang Mai is hot, humid and SO like my hometown Jabalpur that it knocked my socks off. ALL plants that I saw are the ones we get in Jabalpur. Even madhu-maltis! After water restrictions and drought in Melbourne, it was nice to see so much green around. From the airport we got on to a tuk-tuk -- what we call Phat Phat in Delhi and Vikki in Jabalpur -- and reached our 'hotel'...the Little Home Guest House.


Day 1: Efficacy of adjacentness!

Notes from: Kuala Lumpur International Airport, 7.50am
Don't know if I'll get another chance like this, but since the opportunity has presented itself; am using it to the hilt.

First stop, KLIA, in transit. Exactly a year and two days later, we are back in KL, or at least at the airport. This time however, we are flying the cheapest airlines possible. It's showing as Partner and I, both have stiff necks and sore legs. We could have had upset tummies too, only they did not feed us much on the plane. There's only that much you get on economy tickets.

Also, unlike the last time when I saw the swanky side of this airport, this time it's the slightly seedy side. It's still very organised and disciplined -- compared to the experience at Delhi airport when I left India in July 2008 -- however, the jazz is missing. Last time we were in Terminal 1, this time it's the for-local-travellers Terminal 2. Much downgraded and everything doesn't sparkle as much. But thik hai, I can post!

Currently, I am sitting outside the smoking room, adjacent to the toilets, which is where Partner is. I saw it is very good placement: Every smoker after a 10-hour flight will want a smoke and a shit. And, when you really wanna go, you really don't want to hunt for a toilet.

Two things are remarkably different from the last time we travelled.
1. Global economic crisis: Therefore, now the Malay government only allows to take 1000 ringitt outside the country. But surely, if there was a crash and people wanted to pull out all their monies, they wouldn't be taking all of it out as cash, no?
2. H1N1 endemic: Medical forms to fill and airport officials wearing face masks.

Two huge, global developments in 365 days...what are we going to encounter next?
The way forward is a flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand. After that road trip. Hopefully, should be able to update..if not..let's see!!!

Off we go...

1. Passports. check
2. tickets. check
3. undies. check.
4. deo. check.
5. crossword book. check.
6. camera. check.
(7. blog update. check)

So am off. Tomorrow, 7.30am, in Kuala Lumpur. Three hours later, flying to Chang Mai. Excited.

Will hopefully update. As is with a lot of Asian countries, ATMs are hard to find, internet cafes are not. Unlike in Australia, where it's the opposite.

So then...shall update soon enough. :D Stay good and if you decide to stay bad, dont get caught.


PS: Billy and plants (they're my babies too) are at the grandparents' (back to the farm). Billy loves it, I hope he remembers me two months later...


Rape. Again.

Let’s kill all the women because then there will be none left to birth men.

In Congo, they are and have been doing it for 12 years.

“1 out of 3 women on this planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime.”

“Those like Dr Mukwege, a Congolese OB/GYN and founder of Panzi hospital who has been sewing up women’s and little girl’s vaginas for 12 years as fast as the militias are ripping them apart.”

"Hundreds and thousands of women and girls raped and tortured. Babies as young as 6 months, women as old as 80, their insides torn asunder. "

I am sorry, I can’t cut-paste anymore. Please read the entire thing here. Eve speaks on rape and violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Quotes courtesy: V Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls

Brains vs balls...

... is a lost battle. Got this is an e-mail:

The first testicular guard was used in cricket in 1874; the first helmet was used in 1974. It took 100 years for men to realize that the brain is also important.

:D What say?

Pic courtesy: Bayou Renaissance Man


The fire within

1998-1999. I had recently moved to Delhi with my parents. So many things were new. Opinions were new, I discovered I had them, I was allowed to state them and no one said, "You can't say that because I am your father."

The biggest shock though was calling "seniors" by their names... In the army, everyone is aunty or uncle, even those just two years older to you. In the 'outside' world, you were judged by what you did, the stories you cracked, not by who's daughter you were.

The outside world was also not as protective as dad (or the army). I wasn't 'baby' anymore, no one was there to collect me from school. Older men weren't scared of my dad to approach me. Older women weren't maternal figures anymore, they had claws. I developed mine. I learnt to use the public transport system, to haggle with autorickshaw drivers, to not trust older men, be wary of older women. I longed to validate my identity, my existence.

I wanted roots. My roots. Delhi rooted me. Hah, literally. (grin) Jobs, houses, friends, lovers, attitudes formed, morphed, lost...gained. Heartbreaks, promotions, scandals (oh yeah), pets!, vices, gods... Everything was new, everything was different, everything was to be learnt, discovered. Ten years went by.

2008-2009. I have recently moved to Australia. So many things are new. Opinions are new, I have had them, I am changing some of them. I'm learning to respect other opinions as well. Of course, sometimes I forget. It's funny how from discovering you have opinions, we grow so possessive about them to let go...

The biggest shock was calling someone else's parents by their names. Toughest was calling Partner's parents by their names. Strange was when at times Partner would refer to his parents by their name!

The world outside India (and the media) is not the same. I am judged by how I adjust, what I learn and un-learn, by what I bring to the plate... Not by the stories I've done, the bylines I collected or who's girlfriend/wife I am. Both my press card and my Indian driving license mean nothing. My passport and the 'India' on it is my identity; legally and in many other ways. So far that is...

Oh yes, I also eat cow and am not in hell.

After 10 years of working for the best media houses, I've made sandwiches for people and cleaned tables. My resume has so far been worthless; even for getting a job at a bookstore. :) Friends, associates, attitudes, vices, interests are forming, morphing... No promotions or scandals (yet). Lover remains the same. :)

I moved so much in India, then moved out of India and now... I am stepping over boundaries, geographically, mentally, hell even physically. Like piling on kilos (hrmph).

It's like a dream. Things and places I read about in Readers' Digest and National Geographic, saw movies about, read in fiction novels... Those things, places, people are real. Real enough to touch. feel and taste (er, not the people).

I am happy and I am humbled....AND we are flying to three awesome, awesome places on Sunday evening. See if you can guess them?


Muggle-smuggling confuses jailers?

Did you know that 'muggle' -- before Harry Potter -- was a slang term for marijuana? And 'Twitter' was related to chopping up whales?

I am in shock, more due to the muggle association than with the whaling one. Before the muggle though, here's the bit about the whale...

For those who don't know the Twitter-whale association, here goes the story. Website cnet.com reports, "Whenever Twitter's servers take a tumble ... the microblogging service brings up an image of a whale being lifted out of the water by a flock of birds." This image -- now reaching iconic levels -- is popularly known as the Fail Whale and was created by designer Yiying Lu.

According to cnet.com, which quotes the New Bedford Whaling Museum, 'twitter' once "referred to an obscure piece of sperm whale anatomy that was typically only encountered when whalers were chopping up one of the unfortunate creatures." Ironic that the Fail Whale reaches iconic status after being used on Twitter. Read full story

As for the Muggle bit; all of you should know that in Harry Potter books, 'Muggle' means non-wizard people, ie, you and me (alas). However, a news article on Times magazine's website shows that in 1931, Muggle meant marijuana/ganja/pot. To quote Times.com, "In New Orleans many a schoolchild is said to be an addict; prison authorities find muggle-smuggling a perplexing problem."

Wonder if JK Rowling knew that...
Disclaimer: The image of Harry Potter is from Sidecar Sally; the author of this website did not create the image.


Write India?

What is it about internationally acclaimed books from India or by Indian authors? Or as more is the case today, books by authors of Indian origin?

For long such books have either been about a post-colonial hangover with the British Raj (rule), or about Non Resident Indian reminiscing about home or (as of recently), the ABCD* Handbook to Criticising India.
(*ABCD = American Born Confused Desi, where 'desi' means native)

The 2008 Booker of Bookers winner Midnight's Children (Salman Rushdie), the 2008 Man Booker winner White Tiger (Aravind Adiga), the 2000 Pulitzer winner Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri) and even the 1996-Booker shortlisted, A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry) falls into either one of those categories.

All these writers and their books are also clubbed under the category of 'Indian Writing in English'. Whether the 'Indian' refers to writing originating from the country or a native of the country is suspect. 'Indian Writing in English'. Strange, we don't have Spanish/Spaniard Writing in English or Italian Writing in English or French Writing in English. Perhaps because some critics find the language by Indian authors tedious, constructed and flowery'...

Then there are writers like Shobhaa De (Superstar India), Advaita Kala (Almost Single) and blog-to-books recent entry, Meenakshi Madhavan Reddy (You Are Here). 'Irreverent' is the over-used adjective for their writing. While Ms De is a senior when it comes to writing and successfully stirring controversy -- she is also consistent on the best-seller lists -- the other two writers are newbies. By newbie standards, Madhavan has been around and writing -- in the blogosphere at least -- for much longer than Kala. Their writing is also being heralded as the face of "the brave, new world of the young of our times". I have not yet read You Are Here (expectant); but I have read Almost Single (cringe).

Going by what Khushwant Singh and book reviews have to say about Madhavan's book and what I read in Kala's: Is their portrayal the real, new India?

Why does portrayals of India either have to do with slums or sluts? Yes, we do drink, smoke, dance, f**k and start earning much earlier than the older generation(s) used to.... but is that all to us? And if there is more to us, why the hell isn't anyone writing about it and why's no one publishing it?

What, according to you, is the best representation of India in a fiction/non-fiction book? Also, if you read review blogs that focus on Indian books/authors, share the link.

PS: And I strongly disagree to respected Khushwant Singh saying, "...I doubt if I would admit she was related to me" about Madhavan's book.
I am sorry Mr Singh, those are rotten, double standards. Or is it because Madhavan happens to be a free-speaking, feisty young woman? Your books were far raunchier, in bad taste and pretentious. While you are denying any links to the current generation, we are a fruit of your loins. If the fruit isn't sweet, perhaps the older generation needs to think about it.

PS: Some others seem to take this post as a criticism. Is it? It's more an attempt to understand what's happening with Indian writing/writers from India. As a media student, I find in discussions that somehow people seem to presume that Indian authors can only write about a 'certain' India. And no, I am not an author. It is very hard.


I hate injections...

I am not squeamish. I also like to believe that when faced with life-threatening situations I will be quite brave. In fact one of my favourite, recurring superhero-type day dreams involves us (random people and me) being hijacked -- as in train/plane/car -- by terrorists*. So I indulge in some hand-to-hand combat and save the day. However, sometimes the dream gets muddled in technical details. Like, how many terrorists can I handle at once? Maybe kick one in the groin, poke another in the eye...what happens if there's a third one and he shoots me in the head? Or if one of them has dynamite or something strapped around him?

In another dream, the pilot faints and I have to fly the plane reading How To Fly A Plane In An Emergency manual. I bet I can do it. It's a plane after all, not Twitter that you cannot figure it out. Like on Twitter, I know RT means re-Tweet, what the heck does "#" mean?! There. I've committed twittricide (twitter+suicide) by announcing I can't figure the "#". Is it "f##k I don't f######g understand it?"


Gotta grind

Thank-you all for the birthday wishes...here as well as those on Facebook. It's bloody awesome.

I'm gonna be somewhat silent for the next week or so. I'll try for some words/lines, though it's going to be tough.

I have 8 assignments lined up for May 13th... Small mercy though that they weren't yesterday.

1. book proposal
2. Seminar on online publishing
3. Seminar on epistolary novels
4. Seminar on subplots and theories
5. First draft on 3000 words of the book
6. Seminar on development of the book
7. fiction story on magic realism (bloody tough)
8. Novel analysis report

And I used to think that writers just sit in the garden, wear dirty clothes and let their imagination do the job. Not. (scowl)

PS: But I totally, completely love it. Very different from the undergrad Bachelor in journalism style of teaching where we 'read' from books and memorised stuff. Am off...so much to do. Need to start planning better. Thankyou, again. :)


Happy Birthday, 2009

Right. So this is it. The big 3-0. Would love to write more, but uni. Thankfully, no assignments today. First thing I thought of in the morning? "I don't want to go to school." :)


Dear Mr Rushdie, I love you.

How bloody convenient for Danny Boyle to completely remove Christianity and insert that Hindu-Muslim rioting in Slumdog Millionaire.

Did you know
there is no Mumbai Hindu-Muslim, communal violence sequence in Vikas Swarup's Q and A? That's the book Slumdog is based upon. Instead, what the book has is a scene where the hero of the film is nearly molested by a Christian priest. Why the change I wonder? Meryl Streep can play a priest-questioning nun in Doubt but Danny Boyle cannot show it in his 'Bollywood' movie? The West wouldn't want India questioning the priests perhaps?

Please don't misunderstand; I am no great lover of Hinduism. I don't understand it, like almost every other religion. I get the point of God, I don't get the point of religion. But that's another post, another time. What's got my goat (again) is the sheer idiocy of
Slumdog and how the West sees it as India. It's not and it's rot.

I have really tried to think about it in positive terms, I cannot.
This is called being vindicated. This is what Salman Rushdie has to say (I forgive his Padma Lakshmi debacle because of this):

Author and critic Salman Rushdie has responded negatively to both the film Slumdog Millionaire and the novel on which it is based, Q & A. In his essay on film adaptations, "A Fine Pickle," Rushdie argues that the plot of Swarup's novel is "a patently ridiculous conceit, the kind of fantasy writing that gives fantasy writing a bad name. It is a plot device faithfully preserved by the film-makers, and lies at the heart of the weirdly renamed Slumdog Millionaire.

As a result the film, too, beggars belief." He made similar statements about Slumdog Millionaire in a talk given at Emory University, arguing that its plot "piles impossibility on impossibility," and in an earlier interview with The New York Times, where he conceded that he found the film "visually brilliant. But I have problems with the story line.... It just couldn’t happen. I’m not adverse to magic realism but there has to be a level of plausibility, and I felt there were three or four moments in the film where the storyline breached that rule."

Rushdie also blasted Boyle's admission that he made the film in part because he was unfamiliar with India, challenging Boyle to imagine "an Indian film director making a movie about New York low-life and saying that he had done so because he knew nothing about New York and had indeed never been there. He would have been torn limb from limb by critical opinion. But for a first world director to say that about the third world is considered praiseworthy, an indication of his artistic daring. The double standards of post-colonial attitudes have not yet wholly faded away."


Up in smoke?

So today is Day 3 of no cigarettes. I think I am doing really well since I've gone without the nicotine patches as well. You are supposed to wear a fresh patch every 24 hours, but after the first patch on Thursday evening, I haven't worn any.

I will admit to fantasizing about cigarettes now and then, especially after meals. Last night for instance, after a really good meal of pork, baked potatoes, cabbage-with-bacon and baked pumpkin; all with a glass of beautiful red wine, I really wanted a cigarette.

But I didn't have any and started knitting instead. This is my first, proper knitting project. The last and only time I've knit was when I was 14... it was a scarf that was eventually completed by mom. This time it's a jumper for Partner. He has promised that even if it is yucky and cannot be worn out, he will wear it at home. I am happy. I've completed the back and will attack knit the front, arms and the neck.

I have no bloody clue how to knit the neck -- remember my mom using four knitting needles and it looking very technical -- but I'll figure out something. Partner's mom was very amused that I was not using a 'pattern' -- a book to tell me when I have to pick/drop stitches. I was very amused because I was doing it the old-fashioned Indian way: Make Partner stand with arms stretched out and measure it against him. :)

Have a nice Sunday (or whatever day it is, wherever you are)
How nicotine patches help quit smoking: Here
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