A travelogue, sort of

​My friends keep telling me that the pictures from my previous trip are really good and all, but  they are not sure if ​the place is actually beautiful or its more to do with my photography skills. ​I will share a very important photography secret here: Never make your bad pictures public. I am usually disappointed with my good pics too, but that’s when Photoshop comes into picture. ​Anyway,​the point I am trying to make here is, for me, travel is not all about going to beautiful places. Its much more than that. For example, ​​I just love the sense of belonging you feel after staying in a place for a few days​, even though you have no idea of the place before this trip. You begin to identify the routes and the lanes, go around by yourself and even give directions to other tourists. You talk to the locals, you eat their food (though sometimes it doesn’t turn out to be a good experience), you visits their pubs, you basically blend in. ​You become​ a part of the​ world not your own for a short while​. And when you come back from a long ​trip,its just awesome​ to find your people, your home, your bed, ​all of which you​ would​ take for granted otherwise. ​Much later, on a dull day,​ ​your magnificent brain decides to cheer you up and says,” Ok let me show you something nice” and starts conjuring​ up images and sounds of those moment​s lost ​in time ​and your face unwittingly breaks into a wide smile. I can go on and on.

My last trip to Cambodia was one such trip. We had a LOT of time to get bored of all the temples and architecture around, so I had to find entertainment wherever I can. Some mildly interesting stuff happened which at that time seemed much more interesting. I thought I will write it anyway.

We got up at 4:15 AM, took our cab and drove for around 12 kms to reach the temple at 5:00 AM. It was pitch dark everywhere and I setup my tripod at the edge of the pond, all set for the sunrise. There was an Asian guy next to me. Asian as in ​<racist slang here>. For the rest of the world, there are two types of people in Asia – ​Asians and Indians. So this guy started taking some pics while my cam was complaining about the low light. I peeped and asked him what settings is his camera on. He loudly said something in a language totally incomprehensible to me, as if I am totally expected to understand what he was saying. I told him I don’t understand the language and showed him the error message on my cam. ​We started communicating through our LCD displays. “ISO” he said in his typical accent and showed me his aperture and shutter settings. After that, he kept informing me every time he changed his settings, or lowered his tripod to get a better view etc with both of our vocabulary basically limited to “aaa” “umm” “ooh” “yayaya” . Some time in between, I asked him if he was Japanese. With my hundreds of hours of experience in watching (Japanese) anime, I should have guessed he was not speaking Japanese, but it was 5:30 AM on a cold, cloudy,dark morning!​ ​ His wife who was standing next,​giggled and said “Nooooo, Chinese”. It was quite sweet. I thought Chinese people usually take offense at being mistaken for Japanese. After that, I got so busy clicking I didn’t notice them go.

Later that day, me and my friend were trying out noodles at a mobile stall on the roadside, after painstakingly​ explaining him not to add anything ​that has moved once before (any animal,that is).​Of course,I told him to ​be liberal with the chilli. ​It was all looking good. ​Now came the​ bummer – he handed me the noodles along with two chopsticks! ​Expecting me to finish a bowl of noodles using chopsticks is like expecting Salman Khan in the lead role of Paan Singh Tomar! ​But as the cliche goes, desperate situations call for desperate measures.​ There was food on my plate and​ I will be damned if I don’t finish it,​and do it while it ​was hot. An elderly Chinese couple came to the stall. The husband looked at me ​making the chopsticks dance​ and smiled. I ​gave an embarrassed ​laugh and said “I am not used to this”. The stall boy asked him something and he replied “Can, can”. I immediately turned and asked him “Are you from Singapore?” He was. ​A brother from our land in a foreign land! Sentiments started flowing freely. He told us that they have come by a tour package and how he roamed about wild ​and free ​during his younger days but now he needs a ​transport to take him around.He ​meandered into the topic of Singapore​ by-elections​ and so on.​It was amusing how I actually felt happy seeing someone from Singapore. ​And to my credit, I totally cleaned up my noodles plate using the chop sticks. It couldn’t be helped, the stuff was spicy and delicious.Looking back now, thank god it was noodles and not rice!

The same night, I left my friend having a good time at the club and started towards the hotel at midnight. A tuk tuk stopped (A tuk tuk is basically a moped fitted to a carriage. Very comfortable for 2 people) and I felt lazy and got in though the hotel was at a walk-able distance. He started the vehicle and without looking at me asked “Mister, want some lady?” I ​was caught off guard and ​replied “No no, just take me to the hotel”. He paused, turned back in slow motion and gave me a toothy, sheepish grin “HIHIHI” . Best grin of 2013 so far.

And there were stereotypes everywhere. The Chinese always arrive in bus loads. Once they descend in the vicinity, everything else goes silent. People move out of the way, the birds stop chirping, everything just freezes except the Chinese moving noisily around and their cameras pointing in all directions in all weird angles. Things get back to their normal peaceful self once the battalion has moved on to another target. I think, same would be true with Indians too, if only we had enough money to go to all these places. For now, I will give you an advice I read in a blog. Do not travel anywhere in the world, I repeat, ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, on Chinese holidays. Moving on, the Indian stereotype – wearing tees/full sleeves, jeans and shoes – the entire wardrobe, in 35 degree C weather. Me and my friend were guilty of it too. I know at least one westerner who looked at me top to bottom and gave a sideways smile.​ Well, ​we laughed at them too. I don’t understand why westerners have to wear clothes like they are living in utter poverty​ when they are traveling​? Okay, agreed the clothes are more comfortable than ours, but some people ​who seem well off, ​wear clothes that resemble rags and ​are definitely not washed for a long time!

So that’s that. I don’t know how to end this, so I will just quote a brilliant line by one of my favorite bad guys in fiction.
“There probably isn’t any meaning to life. But perhaps you ​can find something interesting to do while you are alive.”

Of Haircuts,Discounts and Coconuts

This is how the going has been for me in Singapore. I should have posted this long back, but better late than never.
Curly troubles : I visited the hair saloon recently. “Ooo cully hai'(hair) aar? Very deefficul tu com’ lah (Though my hair is definitely not curly, its shamefully dull when compared to the straight, shiny hair of  the people here. I told the guy to cut it “medium” and not to make it too short. One thing I would like to mention here that I totally love haircuts. The lazy atmosphere in the saloon, the rhythmic sound of scissors and the slightly ticklish feel when they touch my hair transports me into a trance-like state where I drift away seamlessly between multiple worlds, with no boundaries between them. Or maybe I just get drowsy. Either way, like it has happened a lot many times, by the time he was finished, I observed with a shock that my crop is as short as freshly cut paddy! He happily told me, “See, looking neat ooreaddy(already). Very easy to com’ now laaaah”. What he actually meant was that he has saved the comb from the dastardly responsibility of working on my hair for a few days!   I expressed him my heartfelt gratitude, paid him “ten dollaa” and left muttering to myself. Seriously though,his position is understandable. They just have no clue how to go ahead when presented with the classic Indian hair, so one can”t really blame him. This is not the last time this happened. And this is the least of the problems I face here.
Thrifty wars: It sometimes gets on to my nerves how lot of conversations revolve around costs and expenses of something-something especially when Indians get together. Wherever you see a bunch of us hanging out, the most prominent topic of discussion would be who has got the said item(a tour package,an electronic gadget,onions – just about anything) the cheapest. Imagine an office scenario. This is how a sample conversation goes :
Person 1: Hey yesterday I bought a mixee.
Person 2 (automatically) : Kitte mein liya?
P1 (totally aware now that this is not going to end well for him) : $48
P2 (with a triumphant look) : I got it for $43. You should have gone to so-and-so place and bought it.
P1(to himself): OK fine. Thanks for the now utterly useless info. I’ll use it to bug somebody else.
Person 3 : (Let me introduce this person. No I cant, since I hadnt ever seen him or spoken to him until that moment when he suddenly popped up from the other cubicle looking as if he has waited for this moment all his life and this is the precise moment which will define his existence on the earth and render meaning to it. So he seizes the opportunity with both hands and jumps into the conversation): Did you say $43? What man? That’s too expensive. U just have to change two train lines, 3 buses and lo you are this so-and-so place where you have to bargain a little and you’ll get it for $37. If you had asked me before, I would’ve told you. Next time don’t do this mistake. Enquire with me first” Now that he is done talking, he looks around in slow motion, silently daring anyone to challenge his price. No one does. There is pindrop silence all around. P1 and P2 portray a variety of emotions simultaneously – awe, despair, disgust, anger and resignation to name a few.They take a silent vow to have their revenge on P3, when he buys something next. The battle is lost, but the war has just began. P3 grins and sits down , with a sense of joy and fulfillment gradually filling his heart. This will make a heartwarming dinner story for his wife,he reflects.
The coconut dilemma : Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined I will be facing problems of such gargantuan proportions in my tryst with the world outside India. I am a big fan of fresh coconut chutney and almost cant do without dosa and chutney once in a few days. And I do not like the packaged grated coocnut they sell in stores. Such blasphemy! It is like choosing …hmmm…a Mithunda movie over an Aamir Khan movie. Or for the international audience, choosing a Twilight movie over a Harry Potter Album. Anyway, one fine day, I got a coconut home. Then it occurred to me. Where to break the coconut? The question popped out from my head and lingered on, just hovering in the air, taunting me. This was not going to be an easy choice. I called my roommate to conference. He said no question of experimentation in the house for risk of breaking the tiles or the kitchen stand. I wondered why I never cared about the tiles back in India. And we could not find a stone to break it on too. When I sufficiently pestered my roommate, he calmly pointed me his head ala Lord Vamana Murthi to Bali Chakravarti and indicating that that I can break it on his head. I dropped the thought after pondering over it for a moment. As I was devising and destroying scheme upon scheme in my mind, I looked in our balcony. Voila! There was a small drainage opening right in front of the door. I was reminded of a quote from the Alchemist – when u want something really bad, all the universe conspires to help you achieve. As the sun set over the horizon and darkness shrouded this half of the earth, I opened the door, looked around for any signs of humans around and approached the hole ever so stealthily. I hit the coconut to the ground with all my might combined with a mental victory roar and quickly ran back into the house after collecting all the pieces. And thus fresh coconut chutney was made available for everyone since then.
The la-la effect: Well this is an attribute typical of Singapore. “lah” in Singapore is totally like “da” in Bangalore and “ra” in Hyderabad. Only difference is the Indian versions sound masculine like they are supposed to, and the Singapore one sounds,well,gay (because of the la-la-la sound, I guess) . What gets me slightly irked is the fact that Indians who have been living here since a long time catch the local English. Try this:
Me: Shall we go for lunch now?
Long time NRI: Can,can.
Me: Does this restaurant have vegetarian food?
Long time NRI: Have,have.
I think its just a part of natural evolution. Anyway, if you want to listen to some hilarious Singlish (Singapore English), check this out: Singlish chat on phone
More Singapore stories coming up!