Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 has almost passed

I am writing because it has been ages since I wrote here. I think Tumblr and Twitter have overtaken my life. Long posts seem unbearable when I can say things I want to in 140 characters. Tumblr is even better, doesn't require me to say much at all.

First I want to say egads again to Blogger. I feel like I am alone on an ocean of white, adrift in all this minimalism you have thrown at me. Quite disturbed by it. Expect a nurse to pop out any minute to offer me some pills for my depression.

After the cribbing about Blogger (you idiots), I want to talk a wee bit about 2011. Whoosh, the year went by, didn't it? I finished a year of shaadi, survived my first giant earthquake, saw and experienced Japan's cultural uniqueness, moved to Hong Kong, went to India for a 3 week vacation this month and well really had a blast.

There have been so many moments that made my life just so amazing this year that honestly I can't wait to experience 2012. I know people who hate 2011 and just want it over and done with but me, I really enjoyed it. Having a husband around with the same tastes really helps of course :)

I still have my grand plans for my photography but I am always worried I am never going to know enough. I want to have my own website up and running by next year for sure. It was supposed to happen by this year end but you know what they say about best laid plans.

Can't wait for 2012 to start. Oh yes, its also the year when its all supposed to end. Should be interesting times ahead for us. See you on the other side. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The departure

You walk into a country that is as foreign to you as those chocolates that your Dad's friends would bestow on you generously when you were a but a kid. You don't know the language - a dialect that is lost to you. Everything is fascinating - the people, the clothes, the food.

And then one day it becomes yours. You begin to understand the nuances of what should be said in an elevator with neighbours. Food, once exotic is dare I say, common, like dal. You even begin to learn to live with the earthquakes - something that shattered your world has again become a thing of day to day living. You love it for it is your home.

I am leaving my home tomorrow to make another one. The transition is difficult but exciting all the same. New people, new experiences and same lust for what life is going to bring stays with me.

My 9 months in Tokyo, Japan have taught me this. Any place can be called a home as long as you are with someone who you love and care for. We are going to celebrate our anniversary in a new country, I can't wait to begin the journey. :)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Summer in Japan

Humidity. Sweat dripping down your back. Walking down shade filled avenues. Warm fizzy taste of shandy. Brunching. Barbeques. Ah, the smell of barbequed meat sends my stomach into a tizzy. More shandy. Air conditioning. I lived without it all my life in India. And now I have such a yen for it.

Heading to the beach. Splashing, playing in the blue blue waters of the sea. The waves and me play Tag. I win occasionally. Taste of beer on my lips. Pizza for lunch. The tomato sauce so fresh. The peppers crunchy.

Drinking cold coffee. Reading from my Kindle. The smell of books is lost on me now. I yearn for it again.

Ah summer....subarashii desu yo (its wonderful!)

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Lady in elevator with twin girls in a pram: Konnichiwa
Me: Konnichiwa (stealing glances at the very cute girls)
Lady: Atsui desu ne (Hot innit?)
Me: Hai, so desu (Yes indeed)
Lady: Garbled question which I translated in my head as (Is it as hot as where you are from?)
Me: Dochira mo atsui desu (Both places are equally hot)
Lady: Ahhh (The Japanese are big on exclamations :))...Doko de (where the hell is this that you are talking about)....(trailing off)
Me: Indo de (In India)

Elevators clinks to a stop...end of conversation.

The famed Bombay spirit

died in 1993 when Hindus and Muslims went to war in my city. Nothing has ever been the same. Ever. I was too young to know what it meant when a mosque in another city is destroyed and there are repercussions elsewhere. We learned to live again. Some said the spirit had come back. Normalcy had returned.

Cut to 2003 and blasts rock Mumbai through the year. And then came the 7/11 train attacks. I was working in Powai then and understood what those attacks meant. Everyone talked about how Bombay went back to work the next day. What option do people have I ask? You take the very same trains that someone has planted a bomb in the day before and head to work. Or don't get paid.

And then came our biggest attack - 26/11. That destroyed our city as much as it destroyed me. I spent a week, even two, soul searching, binging and trying to come to terms with the fact that terrorists had attacked my city. The city recovered, I recovered, much to my surprise. And we had our 'spirit' to maintain non?

And now yesterday. The pointlessness of the situation makes me cringe, it makes me to want to rave and rant. One press of a button, lives are lost. Innocence destroyed. The bomb doesn't see who is Muslim or Hindu. It just kills without thought. Whole families have been torn apart because someone somewhere decides that a bomb blast is the solution to their problems.

And the famed Bombay spirit. It is but a shadow of what it was. It limps and struggles to be.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Feeling the pulse of a city

An afternoon spent meandering around the bylanes of SoHo, one of the really cool neighbourhoods in the city. Streets that are on a steep incline. Small friendly boutiques. Interesting restaurants. But today it was mostly about the people.

I shopped today hence all the interaction with people. Very cool boutique shops - paper, leather, vintage clothing and accessories, you name it, they got it.

Great customer care and every so friendly. And the language, everything from propah Queen's to broken 'you want, you try, you take' kind of English. Quaint little restaurants called 'Yorkshire Pudding' with signage like a London Tube station.

And an art gallery called Madhouse with interesting contemporary art from artists all around the world.

And outside the gallery's entrance this.

I tried some amount of street photography and here are the results.

Hong Kong is grey today. Mist surrounds the tops of the skyscrapers. Gentle inconsequential rain. A different side to this totally fascinating city.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Of cannons and teacups

Three stops today and all involved museums. First a Folk Museum, which involved an ethnic Chinese Hakka house. Then a museum, which is a converted fort with lovely views of Hong Kong, and then a Museum that dealt with tea ware. And if you thought tea ware isn’t interesting, well then think again!

The Law Uk (uk means house) Folk Museum is essentially two houses – one of which was shut when I visited – which tell the Hakka story. The Hakkas are ethnic Chinese who settled in Hong Kong but by the 1960’s, all their villages were eaten up by urban redevelopment. This house is a remnant of the Hakka's material culture. Ps, trivial fact: Chow Yun-Fat is Hakka :)

It’s not much to look at although they did have great signage and literature relating to the museum.

Inside the museum they have artefacts depicting household items. Literally the two small windows you see are the only windows in the whole house. This was apparently to guard against thieves. Interestingly in two of the rooms there were lofts which were used for storage and as bedrooms for children.

On the right is the staircase leading up to the loft

In fact looking at the whole area, it is easy to see how looming house estates can overtake identity and culture.

These buildings look squeezed in, don't they?

My next stop was the Museum of Coastal Defence. I had been recommended this museum not on account of the artifacts but because of the wicked views of Hong Kong. The museum is itself startling – looming over the visitor and greeting us with tanks and cannons.

A more unlikely Nina I haven't seen

The Viewing Platform was shut unfortunately but I managed to get these views.

The haze corrupts most views quite well :(

The Museum’s name is self-explanatory and it dealt mainly with how Hong Kong protected itself through the centuries. But one of the more interesting things I read about was an amazing adventure which involved the daring escape of 50 British Navy men with a one-legged Chinese Admiral when the Japanese occupied Hong Kong. That exhibition titled 'Escape from Hong Kong - Road to Waichow' was like a page turner. Each panel did the job of being the ‘omg, what’s going to happen next’ bit in your head. And believe it or not, the descendants of all the marines that escaped put together this exhibition to commemorate their bravery and courage.

The 2nd interesting thing was that Japan apparently fought a war with Russia during WWII. I mean you consider the length and breadth of that tiny little country and you wonder how on earth did they manage! In the end, it really does come down to the people, doesn't it?

The afternoon’s heat was getting to me and I headed out towards cooler climes, my hotel. But I had promised myself at the start of the day that I would finish the Museum of Teaware today. Boy am I glad that I went there. Tea seems to be a big pre-occupation here, much like in India. The museum had a video, which demonstrated how tea should be poured aside from the pictorial representations. Did you know you were supposed to use a bamboo whisk to prepare the tea?

And check out the insanely creative teaware I saw at the museum.

They have competitions to select the best ones every year believe it or not! There were such pretty tea cups for sale – my practical side had to fight very firmly with my shopaholic side :)

I ended up my day with some very fine duck at one of the better restaurants in Central (somewhat like South Mumbai where all the businesses are). Actually, last night was an extravagant night gastronomically - you name the meat, I ate it :)

The night lights in Kowloon are flickering away merrily...night is truly here.

Once upon a time in Hong Kong

The sun sets on Hong Kong harbour. The day’s memories rush back. Aching feet and long walks under the hot sun. Hong Kong is loud and chaotic. The MTR (their version of the Metro) is filled with people talking on their cell phones. It is not frowned upon as it is in Japan.

My first breath of Hong Kong air was green. It was at the Hong Kong Park and boy was that a fun thing to do. Spring time flowers, an aviary with colourful birds flying around the top of my head. I didn’t bother to read the names of the birds – they seemed inconsequential to me. The colour and their chirps filled my camera lens and ears.

Note that the Park is in the midst of what looks like skyscraper district. Reminds me a lot of Shinjuku in Tokyo but here the buildings seem to hold sway over everything they view.

I had expected to see the Museum of Teaware, which came strongly recommended. Unfortunately shut on Tuesdays but apparently the oldest Western building in all of Hong Kong.

I urged my feet onward to the Peak. Victoria Peak commands a superfantabulous view of the Hong Kong skyline. There were (what seemed like) at least fifty Spanish tweens chattering away waiting for the ride. The ride upwards in the Peak Tram was somewhat stomach churning. I was amazed that people were walking alongside the Tram in certain places given how steep the climb was.

Reaching the top, the first thing they send you through is the Peak Market – some ten souvenir shops all lined up in a row and selling exactly the same things, not forgetting the ubiquitous ‘I love Hong Kong’ tee-shirts too. You go up at least 6 floors before you hit the Sky Terrace but the view is absolutely gorgeous give or take the famous Hong Kong haze.

Another stomach churning ride followed downwards – really the Tram’s incline is insanely steep. My Lonely Planet tells me that when the two British gentlemen who built it, declared so, they were met with scorn and derision. It took them three years and in one swoop, they got rid of the sedan-chair option that had prevailed earlier.

A quick lunch and then Kowloon beckoned. Kowloon has been described as Hong Kong’s poor sister. But with her mass of humanity, cultural features and interesting old style architecture, she sure puts up a good fight.

Chi Lin Nunnery is my next stop. Set against high rises, this building with intricate carvings and tall, really tall Buddha statues gets most people on their knees. Bonsai gardens and lotus filled ponds add to the whole atmosphere.

I then walked into what I can only described as one of the most repulsive piece of architecture ever. Take a look at it and if your opinion differs, please let me know. The Nan Lian Garden was otherwise interesting. Rockery, bonsai, waterfalls but this piece of architecture really made it into a highlight for me.

Wong Tai Sin Temple was next. Colorful, with interesting statues, and people praying with joss sticks really kick started my first temple visit in Hong Kong.

I paid the $2 and entered a ‘Garden of Wishes’ to the haunting tunes of what sounded like a Chinese clarinet (Do those exist?).

Peace from the maddening crowd at the Temple. Nodded head at two really old Chinese men who walked by me who nodded back. One even said ‘Hi’ really loudly! :)

By now, I am regretting that I gave into my fashion sense and wore my pretty white chappals instead of sensible shoes for all the walking around I was doing. I was tempted to head back to the hotel but persevered and ended up having a great time walking around the markets of Kowloon. And she has plenty of those – a Goldfish Market, Flower Market, Ladies Market, Temple Street Night Market and a Bird Market too.

My trusty LP had suggested a route but I decided to wander around instead which turned out to be more fun. Am sure I missed a market or two but walking amidst the crowd and figuring where your best buy was going to be was a great experience too. The Bird Market was quite sad and err smelled to the nth degree. Birds in cages, chirping around were a direct contrast to where I stood in the morning, watching the birds flying around in a much more freer fashion.

Back at the hotel, Kowloon’s lights are coming on strong and steady. Soon the skyline will be filled with hundreds nay thousands of twinkling stars from the skyscrapers on the other side.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Signs I am assimilating

I met an elderly gentleman today from my building at the elevator. I bowed my head and said 'kombanwa' (evening time greeting here). I gestured to him to enter first when the elevator doors opened and said 'dozo' (you please). When he left the elevator at the floor below mine, both of us chimed together and said 'o-sakini' (sort of I am leaving before you).

Unremarkable as it seem, this whole 2 minute incident left me with a big grin on my face. It's always the little things, I tell you.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

A 28 year wait

(All credits CricInfo)

So long we have waited and then destiny smiled a big fatass grin :)

I was 2 years old when we won the World Cup for the first time. That image of Kapil Dev spraying that champagne has now been replaced by Sachin being carried around the grounds at Wankhede and a team so happy and proud that they had done it for Sachin and their country. Dhoni did a remarkable job of leading the way and I am sooooo happy that our time has finally come.

I watched the match with my husband in Tokyo where he kept telling me 'don't yell so much' at 2 in the morning. My friends across the globe were mailing every time a wicket fell or we scored. When Sehwag and Tendulkar fell, most of us thought we were done for. But I really believed, it was time we won the Cup.

Kudos to the team for making it and giving us Indians a chance to feel proud of our cricketing feats. This image kinda says it all :D

(All credits CricInfo)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The life of a flyjin in Tokyo

Flyjin, yes the latest, newest word to hit the Japanese vocabulary. Flyjin, yes ladies and gentlemen, essentially refers to foreigners called gaijins here who fled when disaster struck Japan on Mar 11. I am of course a flyjin and more than happy to be termed one! There is no shame or guilt in running from something when you are truly panicking for what is your life. I don't know if that is an inherent cultural trait or something that most people would do, immaterial of which culture they belong to.

People are not asking the tough questions like what would Japanese people have done if they were stuck in India and disaster struck. Would they have hung around and calmly gone on with their lives (as most Mumbaikars do post floods that ravage the city every year) or caught the first flight back to their home? I don't see why there should be scorn or disgust or anger at the way flyjins have behaved or continue to behave for that matter. Do note that I haven't faced any of these reactions from any of the Japanese people I know atleast.

I dislike the imposition of one's cultural values on the other, it does not reflect very well on the mind set of a people. I would believe that its a matter of personal choice and one should be allowed to exercise it.

On the Saturday after the earthquake struck, we went looking for torches and flashlights - all sold out! I step out of the house and there is a shortage of mineral water everyday. I mean, come on, if people are not panic buying, what the heck else is happening. Luckily, we haven't been affected by any of the power cuts happening so god bless on that. Toilet paper, milk, cereal, bread have been running out in certain parts of Tokyo. I know of someone who stays not 20 minutes away from us and didn't get Meiji milk for almost 4 days continuously.

I use mineral water for drinking and cooking. I am not sure how long I should be doing this and maybe I am paranoid despite what the govt says. I think I am entitled to that, coming from such a long and rich tradition of not really trusting your own govt :)

I would like to believe that life is normal. But with a nuclear reactor crippled and gasping for its last breath, some x hundred kms from us, I am not even sure what normal means anymore.

So we won

And I sat up til 2.18 am JST in the morning like a good Indian fan to watch a match which was unbelievable, emotional and so dramatic, it was supah fun!

I am most happy for Tendulkar of course who will be playing in a final again. I am hoping we lift the Cup for him. Its about time no? 1983, the year I was 2 years old now of course seems like ages ago! That eternal picture of Kapil Dev spraying champagne sigh...

Well touch wood on this. And while I might like to say, may the best team win, I am more likely to say, may India win :D

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Return to home and hearth

So we ran away (and yes we did) post the earthquake. I could not handle the fear and uncertainty all the time, not knowing what was going to happen. I am back in my home now, still a bit petrified but far more stronger than when we left. All I could think of was then, that my damn house needs to stop shaking!

Its been almost a day since we returned and touch wood that hasn't happened (yet!). Supplies have been ok too, inspite of the scary stories in the press about shortage of milk, water and the like. CNN btw is useless. You want proper news, you go here.

It was lovely to be back home though, eat home cooked food made by my mother, spar with my sister and catch up with friends. We even managed to do a short holiday which gave us space and time to figure out our next steps.

Big lesson learnt: Don't plan too much and do as much as possible- life is too short! Cliched but true!

Monday, February 21, 2011

A very long time back

The Taj, originally uploaded by KittyKaht.

My city burnt like never before, like not even during those ghastly riots of '93. I hurt, I cried and I was angry. Someone had dared to come to my home and decided to rape my essence.

Today, I hear news that the one living perpetrator of this attack has finally been sentenced to death. And I don't feel much really. Was it really so long back that I drank like never before to forget and try and make peace with what had been done...

It was a sacrilege that was committed against my city. But we found the will to move on, to my surprise, au contraire to what I said before and work towards a better tomorrow. Look at the commitment of the Taj management towards restoring that lovely hotel and looking after their staff so well!

Life does cast its shadows. Kasab is a shadow that is best dead. I said that before, I will say that again. Democracy or no democracy, a man who commits evil deeds like that deserves to die.

I miss my home, more than ever now that I am in a different home of my own making. Reading this sort of kickstarted that feeling. You realise that there are still things left to do, many more trains to clamber into and experience your city at its fullest.

Viva La Bombay - she will always be a Queen in my eyes :)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Otaru - a hidden gem

Otaru is a town/city which is about 30 or so minutes away by train from Sapporo where we had gone to experience the (crazily cold) delights of the Snow Festival or the yuki-matsuri as it is called in Japanese.

Otaru is known for its Canal - ever so pretty that I ended up buying a portrait of the Canal which looks pretty too!

The town knows how to make money of tourism too. They had a Snowmen street - where there all different kinds of snowmen and people of course took photos with them :D

They are both wearing matching blue scarfs!

Outside a glass shop (which Otaru is well known for)

But I forgot to mention the most wonderful thing about Otaru - its near the coast so this mean the train was like about 10 feet away from the Sea of Japan :D Do you know how cool it is to go on a train ride where the sea is just inches away with the line between the sea and snow merging even!

All the same innit?

We had reached early afternoon after a failed attempt to get to the number 1 attraction in Sapporo, the Historical Village but that is a story when you are drinking some whisky with some good company.

Anyways, Otaru I knew looked wonderful in the evening according to the photos we saw so we kept faffing until a point where we knew we would be able to experience it. We saw 'live' crab sitting inside a tank waiting to be eaten, wee snowmen like below...

Interesting candlework and lights like these

A whole family of wee snowmen :D

and bought delicious chocolate too :D As evening beckoned,

The lamps got lowered into the water

End result

The Canal all lit up at twilight

At the end all you can really say is this Go Otaru :)

If only Otaru was accessible from Tokyo that easily :)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Photo Essay on Tsukiji

So I did a small walk around Tsukiji and here is what I found:

Owls in the strangest places.

Peds hanging out in public

Green Green bicycles

Pretty pretty drain covers

Tall skyscraper like residential complexes

Flowers blooming along the sidewalk

And a bridge that soared into the blue blue sky

What an enjoyable afternoon that was! :D