Sunday, 14 September 2014

Mumbai Moments...

Back at the start of 2012, I read a book called Shantaram. Written by Gregory David Roberts, it is a narrative based on Roberts' experiences in the Bombay underworld. It is a wonderful read, my first taste of India and according to the Indian friends I know, an accurate depiction of Bombay.

This week I got to see it for myself.

Lucky enough to travel to India for work, I spent an overnight in Delhi - not enough time to see anything unfortunately - before heading south for two days in Mumbai (aka Bombay) and after a day at our factory and offices, it was time to experience a little local colour with beer and vittels at Cafe Mondegar.

Cafe Mondegar is located on Colaba Causeway, (officially known as Shahid Baghat Singh Road), a land link between Colaba and Old Woman's Island in the south of Mumbai and a buzzing commercial street filled with bars, restaurants, cafes and throngs of people. Cafe Mondegar, or Mondy's to the locals, is a hub for both local and expatriate socialising with tables and chairs packed closely together and a menu catering for adventurers seeking local flavours as well as travellers pining for a little taste of home, wherever that may be.

The main cafe wall is covered with a cartoon mural painted by famed Indian illustrator Mario Miranda which depicts the hustle and bustle of life in Mumbai - these caricatures can also be spotted on the plates supplied for your meal as well as the salt and pepper shakers on each table and a range of items for sale like t-shirts and mugs.

I was told that Mondy's represented just the tip of the culinary iceberg but was an excellent place to start so left the ordering up to my colleagues with the only stipulation being I wanted to eat local food. In my experience, eating food in its place of origin always tastes better and I was not disappointed. Each dish was delicious and washed down with a range of ice-cold beers. With the vintage jukebox busting out some excellent 80s and early 90s tunes, Mondy's got a big Thum(b)s Up from me.

Thums Up, India's favourite cola
The following day it was time for some retail visits, seeing the types of products available and how they are sold - quite different from the superstores and chains of the more developed markets that I am used to. What it meant was that, albeit from the back seat of our Tata car, I got to see Mumbai.

Our first stop typified Mumbai for me, a curious mix of new affluence and poverty side by side.

Taken at Phoenix Market City, Kurla, Mumbai

Our second stop saw us back in the Colaba region. The streets off the main roads were quieter and lined with colonial architecture, a hangover from the area's occupation by British forces in the 1700s.

Famous residents include Sir Ratan Tata, the Emeritus Chairman of Indian multinational conglomerate Tata Sons, the holding company for Tata Group (ownership of Jaguar and Tetley Tea among its many interests).

Speaking of Tata, we did visit one of their Star Bazaar stores in Andheri...

...where we managed to buy a Magnum (ice-cream) - quite new and extremely expensive in India according to my colleague - and eat it watching one of Mumbai's many entrepreneurs...

Mumbai money: She's selling Tupperware from her car boot.
And then it was time to head back to the hotel so we hit the road...

So that was the end of my first visit to India and more particularly, Mumbai. Where 20 million people exist side by side in states of extreme wealth right through to abject poverty and where entrepreneurialism thrives as every man, woman and child finds ways to make ends meet. Its crowded streets are overwhelming, decimated at this time of year as the monsoon season wrings out its final downpours and filled with the strangely happy beep beep of car horns as the traffic pushes and snarls and untangles itself again. 

The atmosphere is one of tolerance - how could such diametric opposites co-exist without it - and a mixture of acceptance and hope, an acceptance of one's destiny yet a belief that one's actions in life will generate 'good' karma. And I found myself unexpectedly moved by this metropolitan melting pot, its busy, bustling hopefuls and its fusion of many opposites.

Gregory Roberts writes this in Shantaram:

“Fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies, and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we can never know which one is which until we’ve loved them, left them, or fought them.” 

I wonder what Mumbai will turn out to be.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

A Day At The Fair...

This time last week I was arriving at Heathrow Airport after a 9 day soujourn with Seattle-A and all of her boys.

You see, I'd managed to tack a few flights onto the end of a work trip so after about 7 hours flying (and a rather tight connection dash through Houston Airport en-route) I arrived at Seattle-Tacoma Airport on a warm evening in August to be hailed by a fond Coo-ee! and Seattle-A hug at the luggage belt.

It'd been about 6 months since my last visit so there was loads for us to catch up on over a burrito and a gin and tonic on the way home. There are so many changes happening in both of our lives - she as a second-nation expat and mother of twin boys and me as somewhat of a jetsetter in my new (since last October) job - but the feeling of picking up where we left off last time remained.

It was an unexpectedly busy first few days as a) Grandma-C was enjoying the last few days of her very own Seattle sojourn and b) I was invited to accompany Team-M on a long weekend in Walla Walla in Washington's wine region under the auspices of celebrating a friend's 40th birthday. Hmmm more travelling...but made palatable by wine and friends at the end of it. 

Returning from our weekend away, I was left with a few days to hang out at Chez-M, plenty of opportunity for a cuddle top-up with my favourite little dudes and to soak up some Seattle-A time to sustain me until my next visit. 

On my penultimate day, this included a trip to the Evergreen State Fair. 

There was some discussion between Seattle-A and I beforehand as to what format this would take compared with our Aussie experiences - pavilions, rides, shows or lots of livestock to stand around and 'admire' outside. As it turned out, it was a bit of everything plus some fair 'fare' so here's a quick scoot around the fairground for your armchair touring pleasure.

There was not one but two ferris wheels...

...and there were rides and games and plenty of vittels...

...although the Snohomish Pie Company (above bottom right) sold only sweet pies much to our disappointment. This turned into an important cultural lesson as the locals in our group laughed at our 'uniquely Australian' expectation of a savoury Snohomish slice.

We soon got our own back.


Seattle-A and I were rather curious about this apparently Australian delicacy, a large onion peeled, flowered and floured before being deep-fried. Upon interrogating the purveyor of said goods, we learnt that there was no Down Under connection at all. Nor did we find out who 'Aussie' was.

After a quick reconnaissance we were soon tucking in to some local vittels of our own...

The top right photo shows bacon on a stick. Yes that's right - bacon - on a stick. 

Those enormous deep fried things bottom right are onions rings (as distinct from the onion burst discovered earlier).

To the left is my lunch: a bottle of root beer (seriously I could not get enough of this stuff - anyone who can tell me where I can buy this in the UK will earn my eternal gratitude) and an all-American Russian piroshky. The lady was making these by hand when I approached the van so it was a salmon and cream cheese one for me and a meatier version for Seattle-A - delicious!

Soon it was time for a little more wandering and while we were searching for the petting zoo (the main agenda for our visit), our little group was waylaid, this time by ice-cream. Seattle-A was delighted with her Chocolate-Almond choice and was looking forward to devouring the whole lot...

...but the little dudes, particularly R,  had other ideas.

And I can't say I blame them - the couple of bites I had were divine!

More meandering followed with the little dudes practicing their new-found walking skills...

...and before long we found ourselves near our destination, these wooden creatures greeting us as we approached the location of said petting zoo.

With bears in the Chez-M area - neighbours report ursine visitors ransacking garbage bins under cover of darkness - we thought the ones below would look great scattered through the trees surrounding Chez-M but were unsure as to whether they would attract, repel or even 'upset' the real thing.

Speaking of locals, we were also treated to a display of indigenous colour and rhythm here so the little 'uns in our party did a bit of tribal foot-stamping to the beat of a native drum.

Finally, we made it to the zoo.

Hooray I hear you say.

O (left) was not entirely sure of the competition for Mum's attention...

....but R (right) was fascinated by these real-life creatures previously only seen in picture books.

So that was our big day at the fair. A hot, blue-sky day filled with new experiences for the young...

...and the young at heart.

And so the following day I packed my Day at the Fair alongside my new stash of Seattle memories in my suitcase, said some emotional good-byes and flew home.

But I'm already thinking about the next trip. 

You see Seattle-A turns 40 next year...and you know how I love a birthday!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

British...With A Twang

I've been living in London now for more than ten years and lately I've been thinking about forking out some of my hard-earned pounds for British citizenship. 

I have no plans to make my home elsewhere. I've blogged before about my pride in the life I have built here and I still love London. Yet there is a part of me that wonders whether some change in legislation or circumstance might result in my losing my right to live and work here (for the uninitiated, this is called Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK).

With all of the travelling that's been going on of late, I love nothing better than coming back to London's grit, its hustle and its stiff upper lip-ness - things that I never thought I'd love given the qualities I miss most from Down Under are our laconic ease and quintessential directness. And my London friends tell me that I'm still identifiably Australian.

But in the last few weeks, meeting new people has been met with 'You sound English - but there's a twang in there? Where are you from?' as opposed to the previous 'Are you from Australia or New Zealand?'

Back in June 2011, I read an article in the Australian Times which asked Are You Losing Your Australian-ness? and at the time, I identified two things:

1. I was about 41% of the way along the list of 12 steps indicating British-ness.

2. That British-ness would overtake me after about a decade.

So it seems that the article was true to its word - linguistically speaking that is. But as we Australians can maintain our Aussie citizenship and hold a British passport, it's not like I have to relinquish everything. It will just be that my divided heart will be manifested in dual nationality. 

Life has a funny way of throwing one a curve ball and while I might be sitting in the dugout waiting for the next 'batter up!' (I'm in America at the moment so please excuse the additional third-cultural reference), previous innings have shown that it's best to be a little prepared.

So it means I have to fork out some cash and get a few details details of the last five years of complete my application. 

Now that's going to take some doing...

...because quite frankly, this is just the tip of the iceberg!

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Ode To Ghent...

After a birthday of fun
On August day one,
On August day two
A wedding was done
Amid friends old and new
And we boogied on down.

After a big night of play
To blow cobwebs away
It seemed just the thing
To arrange for a day
Of touristic sightsee-ing
In a neighbouring town.

So to Ghent (or to Gent)
On the Sunday we went
By train and by tram
To the place we were meant
To meet a man with a plan
And a boat to cruise 'round.

Despite threat of a shower
We cruised for an hour
Umbrellas at ready
Past turret and tower
Our camera clicks steady.
Not a drop did fall down.

Next up was a talk
And historical walk
Through old cobbled streets.
At architecture we gawked
And ate local treats:
Jenever and waffles warmed brown.

Apple jenever - delicious
We enjoyed the Ghent view
For an hour or two
Then sought a beer
- a good local brew
To wish all good cheer
(no sorrows to drown).

A wide selection of local beverages
So we followed our nose,
Down cobblestone roads
Til we came to a square
Where a man with a pose
Said 'beer over there!'
With an authoritative frown.

Statue of Jacob van Artevelde in Vridagsmarket (Friday Market)

So thirst quenched we went
To a rib joint in Ghent
Before travelling back,
An afternoon well-spent. 
And as the sky to turned to black
We were hotel-bound.

Ghent train station
Glorious ceiling inside the station entrance
So that was my ode
To Ghent, the abode
and an altarpiece of note.

And it does seem to me
There's much more to like
The next time around!