Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Travelogue - Vietnam - Phuket - II

Okay, i know it has been really long since i came back and wrote something.
Note to self: Discipline is needed... loads of it. So without much ado, i begin the rest of the journey...

Day 2 - 11.02.2010

Breakfast at the hotel in Hanoi before we begin our drive from Hanoi to Halong bay with our guide Moon and the driver at Yes that's early when one is holidaying; but we aren't complaining since we are really looking forward to Halong Bay. we head out into the city and bump into traffic which is already at its peak. Our guide tells us how her husband returned late at night, yet again in high spirits and asks me if Indian men are the same? oops! :) I say, my husband definitely isn't! We cross another landmark of the city, a bridge constructed in 1901 by the French. We are told, the contractors for the bridge were the same who built the Eiffel Tower! Vishal's hand is healing.. i think i forgot to mention this... the night before we started for Vietnam, Vishal was experinmenting in the kitchen as usual and accidentally (of course!) poured hot water on his wrist... some real bad burn. His wrist was bandaged for the entire journey and invariably invited questions from our guides. Perhaps they thought Indian women indulge in husband-bashing :)

It's a 4 hrs drive from the city to Halong Bay and we indulge in some small talk. We talk about the high taxes in Vietnam; many people prefer getting low basic salary with big bonuses. Our guide tells us about farmland life in Vietnam. How farmers in earlier days preferred having many children; one reason was more children = more farmland given by the govt. So there were instances where a farmer would have 19 or more children.. the parents would name their kids - No.1, No.2, No.3 and so on... The other reason for so many kids.. there were no TV or any other form of entertainment... so what do you do? :)

Any conversation in Vietnam is incomplete without anecdotes from the wartime.. we are told, some 300,000 tonnes of bombs were unleashed on Hanoi in 12 days and Nixon infamously claimed that he wanted to take Hanoi to the stone ages. There were generations poisoned by the chemical warfare and Agent Orange (sights of which we would witness later in Ho Chi Minh)... i can't even begin to imagine, how this nation not just managed to defeat the mighty Americans but also rise up to the challenge of building and healing a nation that was deeply injured and ravaged by the war. I can't imagine how the violence of that era must have left the psyche of an entire generation bruised and mangled. And i have so much respect for these people who rose from the dust and blood and worked hard to be where they are now; salute to the grit and positivity they possess.

Enroute to Halong Bay we visit a place where they create silk embroidered paintings amongst other handicrafts, a tradition that Vietnam is rich in, much like India. Some of these paintings are created by the physically challanged, so whatever the tourists buy goes to charity. We buy some exquisite embroidered paintings , some laquerware and a laquer painting which has a base of cracked egg-shells; such effort and attention to detail!

Halong Bay

Halong Bay in Vietnamese means "Descending Dragon Bay" and it's a UNESCO World Heritage site. Vietnamese legend has it that when the Vietnamese were fighting the Chinese, God sent Dragons to protect and defend the people. The jewels and jade the dragons spit out became the islets of Halong Bay. It's a collection of more than 1,600 limestone islets & islands in the Gulf of Tonkin. The waters of Halong are calm and peaceful and it wasn't untill the recent past (i can't remember exactly which year) that it was opened to tourists. Commercialisation and tourism has changed the landscape of Halong a bit, you do see lot more boats now that you would have in the past. I can only imagine how ethereally beautiful and serene this place must have been before humans decided to devour nature, yet again.

We reach Halong Bay. It's a beautiful day, sunny with breeze from the bay. Moon and our driver hand us over to our guide for this leg of the trip - Steven, who accompanies us with another couple in our boat, a Chinese junk named Victory (and so are most of the boats as we dicover later) with 2 bedrooms, a lounge area where one could sit, chat and dine and an open air deck upstairs. We are joined by the second couple, an elderly British couple, Mary & Dick. And this reminds me... i have always wondered, why would parents name their child "Dick"? why on earth? Anyway, we settle down in our cozy bedroom with a really plush loo for a small junk.

First off, we are served some of the best seafood evvvver for lunch... fresh catch from the bay we are told while the boat peacefully glides on the waters of Halong that is dotted with junks of all sizes. It' peaceful and serene and the experience is quite difficult to describe in words (i could play this scene again and again in my head and feel the serenity through my thoughts). What do we have for lunch? Steamed crabs & king prawns with calamansi, salt and red chillies dip. Cabbage rice, fried spring rolls with fish/ crab stuffing (we couldn't tell which one :p), fried fish, steamed rice, dragon fruit & local beer... yes all of this for lunch! And we happily hogged our way to a happy tummy (It was only after a while, i am punished for being such a glutton)...

After lunch, we are taken to this place called "Surprise Grotto". The limestone islets of the bay have some spectacular grottos, "Sửng Sốt" being one of them. It got its name from the French who called it "Grotte des Surprises". Why? because you are surprised at every nook and cranny of the grotto.. there are as many animals and forms as your imagination permits. We arrive at the islet and a climb up 50 steps brings us to the entrance of the Surprise Cave (as our guide Steven calls it) and we are in awe of nature yet again. The size and beauty of the grotto is spectacular, beautiful and something to be experienced. Parts of the cave are dramatically lighted in different colours; i wonder how it must have been without the tourists and the lights in the past. Spooky i guess!

After the grotto-visit, we head off to Quan Lan island which is part of an island range on the outside of the gulf of Tonkin and is part of a navigation route that connects China, Japan, Thailand, Phillipines to Vietnam. What strikes us immedaitely is that unlike the islets inside the bay, this one has a beach.. apparently man-made, but googling reveals its natural. There is this Pagoda at the top of the hill and Steven tells us that we can get some spectacular views of the bay from there. Unfortunately, like i mentioned before, i am punished for being a glutton.. I am visited by a very bad case of stomach upset and unfortunately in a place which doesn't have a functioning toilet. I mean there is a toilet, but that's about it. And at this point, i totally regret hogging like a pig. The thought of going up the steps to the Pagoda is excruciating and poor Vishal has to stay back on the beach with me and my gurgling, painful tummy. I manage to use the facilities provided, but i would love to wash away those memories completely. :)

Finally its time for us to board our boat; we set of towards the bay again and i heave a sigh of relief with the thought of a proper loo at my disposal. :)

Back on the boat we view a beautiful beautiful sunset from the open air upper deck, while our boat silently glides on the calm waters again. An amazing amazing experience. We soak-in everything till it's time for our dinner. My stomach seems alright by now and i think its alright to hog again :) Vishal continues to be surprised by how much i can eat when the food is good. :p

We join Mary & Dick for dinner; it's Mary's birthday so we raise a toast to celebrate the night with some good food, wine and company. For dinner we have stuffed crab, king prawns, bok choy, fried fish croquettes and some really good Chardonay. Dick and Mary are a well travelled couple who keep us entertained with their travel stories. Dick tells us stories about his childhood in Singapore. He and Singapore were still babies then and so when he visited the country some years back, he could no longer take Mary around to the places, streets and lanes that he grew up in. Much of what he had in his memories had changed.

We chat late into the night... how strange, so many thoughts and ideas exchanged with perfect strangers. Dick tells us that his family is from New Zealand and we tell him about our wonderful time in New Zealand. He tells us, how he wants to move to NZ for good but can't; Mary doesn't want to be far from the kids and grand-kids who are all in the UK. Ah, the pull of the family and blood! From what they tell us, we get the feeling that they don't fancy spending their old-age in UK. Every country has it's share of problems and so does the erstwhile land of the never setting sun. We are told that apart from the high taxes, if you are a British citizen, then 40% of your life's earnings go to the govt when you die! What?? Really?!! And that there are generations living on social security because they get more on social security than they would by doing low paying jobs. I guess, unless you live and experience a place, you never really know how it is...

We chat some more about the different places we have been to - India, Greece, Egypt, China, Singapore etc before saying our good nights.

If it was calm and peaceful during the day, the quiet of the night is one notch up. The waters are extremely calm. Apart from the gentle rocking of the boat, much like a baby's cradle, and the gentle whispers of the water, there is no other sound. (The boat was tilted towards my side of the bed the entire night! i thought it was because of me! really? am i THAT heavy? my fears were put to rest when in the morning i was told that Mary also slept on the same side.. woman power heh? ;-))... I would love to spend more such serene nights here... alas, our time in Halong Bay comes to an end tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Travelogue - Vietnam - Phuket

It has been over 3 months since our Vietnam-Phuket trip and it seems like it has been ages already. I would be repeating myself when i say how time flies, but its true.. I feel it even more as i age. Perhaps time moves faster as you age. And with ageing my memory keeps diminishing as well.

Blogging was a way for me to collect those moments into containers that i could peek into later in life. Blogger and cyberspace were easier than writing diaries. And you don't waste paper and save few more trees in the bargain... good karma and all. Alas, there is no time to blog and write diaries either. Something that i rued as i sat down writing my memories from the NZ trip; i could not remember most of the things few months down the line. So the Vietnam and Phuket trip saw me carrying a small diary and pen along. I made good use of the diary i must say, but its only now that i have the time to transfer the contents from paper to blog.

I was half-tempted to throw my pretty little diary into trash a month back when i was packing the godawful amount of junk we have collected for the shift; enough reason for me to write a rant post, but i won't give in to temptation, collecting memories for posterity is more important and precisely the reason i did not have the heart to throw my pretty little diary.

So here i am writing each day as a post, starting from Day 1.

10.02.2010 - 09.10 A.M

The last big outing we had which was quite a spectacular one, i lost the details as time passed by. I did not keep any journal or any account of our trip to NZ. And i lost some wonderful moments of one of the best times of our lives.

So here i am, rectifying past mistakes, trying to jot down whatever comes to mind as we sit in the Silver Kris lounge of Changi Terminal 2 and gobble up some juicy Pineapple and Watermelon chunks. Hopefully, I shall be able to continue this - the journal. Our flight is at 10.05 A.M and we reach Hanoi at 12.30 P.M (Hanoi time).

The flight has taken off and I am visited by the all-too -familiar "knot-in-the-tummy-and-sinking-spirits" feeling... hello there. I hate flights. I love travelling.

Delish food in SIA Business Class and i stuff myself and hog like a pig. I need to divert the mind away from the fact that we are several thousand feet above ground and inside a container that's held in place by nut-bolts and screws.. not a comforting thought. The good food is some solace though -

Starter: Smoked duck breast with dried apricot compote mustard vinaigrette. (Hope i jotted down right, can't really remember how it looked :P)
Main (Vishal) - Thai fried rice noddles with chicken, cuttle fish, leafy greens & egg.

Main (me) - Braised fish with hot bean sauce, seasonal vegetables (cabbage, beans, carrots, cauliflower, mushrooms - i love veggies!) and fried rice.

Red wine for both of us followed by gourmet cheese with garnishes for me while Vishal had a delish mango pudding for company. Yummy!!



My first impression of Hanoi was that the streets and landscape was a curious mix of Calcutta in parts and Delhi in parts. Our guide for the Hanoi leg of the trip told us that there are 54 languages in Vietnam, Vietnamese being one of them. All i could see was motorbikes everywhere. All kinds. Motorbikes of all shapes and sizes and colours; the type and country of make changes as you move away from the city into the rural areas; Italian and US bikes and scooters for the city people, while the rural folks are happy with the cheaper Chinese makes.

We were picked up at the airport by our guide for the Hanoi and Halong Bay leg of our trip - Moon... how nice... i told her my name is a double of hers... munmun and she instantly warmed up to me and made me her long lost sister. I was showered with many compliments and i wasnt sure if that was part of the job. A sweet and smart girl who told us many things about Hanoi and Vietnam. About Vietnamese men in general and her husband in particular. About how the Vietnamese men have a soft spot for drinking and how her husband came home previous night (rather morning - it was in high spirits and without his shoes on him. And everytime she spoke about her son, there was a smile on her face and i realised she could be any other woman trying to make a living in any part of the world; how similar all of us are despite all that is different in us.

After a quick stop and change in our hotel (a 100yrs old restored heritage building) we headed off to sight-seeing; The Temple of Literature (based on teachings by Confucius), the Lake of Returned Sword (Hoan Kiem Lake). Heard stories about Confucius teachings and the impact of the 1000 years of the Chinese rule on the Vietnamese culture. Evening was spent viewing the beautiful and amazing water puppets; i wish i had better pictures of the water puppets. It's a must-watch if you are visitng Vietnam. Took a rickshaw ride along roads of French Quarters and Old Quarters. Amidst the chaotic traffic and the sea of motorbikes, i noticed the numerous art shops and galleries of all sizes dotting the roads and lanes of Hanoi. I have never come across so many in one place before.

Had delicious spring rolls and large portions of dinner that we couldn't finish at this lovely, very European in it's architecture restaurant... the French must have built it years back... lovely.

And it was a short walk back to the hotel; it was hard to believe that we were at home in Sgp this morning and had already covered so much ground in a different country and city and it was still Day 1! And we were sooo looking forward to the next day and Halong Bay!

From Top Left Clockwise: Our Hotel Lobby, Temple of Literature, Streets of Honoi, Vietnamese women working in the Temple of Literature garden, The Hoan Kiem Lake.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The year that was

As the year comes to an end, i cant stop wondering yet again, where did the time go? The year seems to have whooshed past while i was busy living a life. It seems like yesterday that i was preparing for the wedding; and it seems just the other day that we took our jaded and tired asses to some amazing destinations and had the time of our life.

But most importantly, this year will be etched in my life as perhaps the most important one... as a culmination of what started with a chance meeting in 2006, that wiped away all past failings, pain and turmoil and i could make peace, forgive and forget. And i could start drawing this life of mine on a clean slate. Its culmination and begining... all at the same time. I have a new extended, wonderful family and i have V; couldn't have asked for more. Touchwood! So here i wish for more adventures, togetherness, friendship, love, peace, health for me, V and all around.

Health and fitness is something that has been playing peek-a-boo with me for sometime. I need to shed those godawful amounts of flab that i have managed to pile on (a content and happy life, some would say ;p). And so, i feel ever so determined to be disciplined about my workouts and yoga... starting from err today? Not just that, i hope to nag V all the way to yoga as well ;-))

Wow what a year it has been, my best in a long long long time! Hope i get to say the same thing at the end of 2010.

Heres wishing everyone a Very Happy New Year!!


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

one year on

It has been a year since the ghastly and unbelievable images jumped through our tv screens and gripped our minds and hearts with disbelief and horror. One year on, have we really learnt a lesson? I don't think so...

The same problems plague us, the hatred, ignorance, apathy... i could just go on. And there are still scores of people with an educated facade and medieval mind living amidst us. We still have goons all out to squeeze out the last drop of liberty, compassion and creativity from the society in the name of morality, religion, nation, race, cast and what not. Perhaps its just me and my pessimism thats speaking, but a look at the news portals makes me depressed (not to forget the rediff articles comments section - makes my blood boil at times) ... i mean is this the world that i would want to have a child in? What is the point of procreating if this is what my child would have to face and deal with eventually? I know very doomsday like... but thats how i feel at times.

It has been, is and will be... forever... like an eternal love story, only nothing is good about this... religion, money, morals, power, corruption. I dont think there is an end to any of this. No wonder i lost track of the religion part of me along the way, when i saw how mind-numbing and blinding religion can be and that in most cases religion has nothing to do with spirituality or being as good a human as you can be. It evetually becomes, my religion and your religion and the eternal struggle to prove our point...

On a brighter note, I am reading "Eat, Pray Love". I like it; the sound, the self-deprecating humour. I like the casual tone and pace as well. And some of the thoughts of the author on religon are familiar. Having said that, i would also say, unlike the author, i dont really know if i believe in "God"... i wish i did; it would make things easier for me and its an infinitely attractive thought given the kind of security it brings along (and i am a sucker for the warm feeling of being secure - not always in the physical sense, but yeah i guess that too). But i really dont know if i do; barring the instances when i have fervently prayed a few thousand feet above ground at the mere hint of an air-turbulance or when i am shit-scared that i have some life-threatening ailment (you can blame it on the upbringing :)). And like i said i am a sucker for security and the thought that theres someome watching out there and things will be alright is very comforting... i really wish there is God out there. The truth however is that I sit on the fence and i wish there is some sign that would make me tumble over to the spiritual side of the fence ( are you listening God? :)).

There are other things that i am not sure about. Like... destiny. I have a feeling that things happen because they are destined. Or perhaps everything that happens is chance; nothing is predetermined as a dear friend had told me (he is an athiest ;-)). But i am not sure that i am ready to believe that; how is it then that some of the things predicted in my life have come true, if not for destiny or a predetermined way of things to be? If so, is this really connected to some force that controls my life? And if so, is that force God? If so then, where does it leave Karma? Or if i go on another tangent, where does that leave the expanding universe? Yes i think of that too... There are plenty of things that are hazy in my mind and belief system. What is not hazy is that i am really sure of one thing, that i certianly am not blinded by religion; i have my own set of values they ARE my religion and if and when i ever have a child, i will try my best to not impose any religion on him/ her... my child will be free to choose whatever s/he believes in. I guess the only thing i would try to brainwash into their little heads is, what goes around, comes around; so be aware of your actions and intentions coz they might come back to bite you in the ass when you least expect :)

Okay, so enough of the rant and back to some more blanked out staring at the computer screen :p

Ciao! ( That reminds me, and i quote from the book "Eat pray love", i did not know this but the book says, the word "ciao" is an abbreviation of a phrase used by medieval Venetians as an intimate salutation: Sono il suo schiavo! Meaning "I am your slave!")

So... Ciao once again ;-)

Friday, November 20, 2009

My Bamboo plant - green again

I am all snuggled up in my bed... on a workday. Thanks to a throat infection that payed me a visit and had me all drowsy and headached in its wake. Antibiotics were of immense help in mamothifying (am sure there's no such word... but eh, you get the point) the drowsy weak and zombied feeling.

Anyway, i am all snuggled up, but cant doze off just yet coz theres some work to do. The weather is not helping either, what with the sky pouring its heart out. Thanks to this 'pink of my health' condition that i am in, i am forced to ponder on something... theres some guilt thing going on here as well. Guilt since this particular aspect of my nature has driven my near and dear ones up the wall many times and the seeds of which were sown long long back when i was this oiled-hair-in-two-neat-braids school girl who read about terms such as cancer and who now thinks all the cancers known to the human race have either attacked or about to attack her.

So out of this immense feeling of guilt and exasperation with myself, i admit that i am, am afraid, a closet hypochondriac... anything that can go wrong with anyones health might have happened to me or can happen to me and the people i love... and so i google and google and google some more for knowledge and information; some of it is truly enlightening, some of it scares me and confuses me and so i google some more... enough to know about diseases more than some of the docs i have visited :P my father would have said, see now you know why i wanted you to be a doc! Alas...

On a different note, I like this, this working from home arrangement, it gives me enough freedom and time to do other things... when you are in office, you are tied to the office space even when theres not much work. I am so tempted to stop going to office and work from home from now on! :P

And theres some teeny weeny happy feeling sparkling somewhere in the midst of headaching misery. I was so disappointed to see the bamboo plant in my garden turn absolutely brown in the 10 days we were away from home... its soooo good to see the green appear again! my bamboo plant looks beautiful, fresh and green again... wish human body was like that. As a child i used to wonder how fantastic it would be to be able to shed tails like the lizard. You know if your arm was in pain or injured, just shed the arm and grow a new one! Human beings are disadvantaged it seems. We probably did not pick up some of these miraculous gifts that nature has gifted others in the name of evolution and survival.

I shall bid a good bye and make some tea... its still grey and raining outside. Have a fab weekend !

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wish i could weave the words

I just finished reading "The inheritance of loss"... a bit overwhelmed; the heart and mind are abuzz with thoughts and visuals from the book . I have often envied this gift in people; the gift of weaving words so effortlessly... something that i so want to possess and which evades me. You know words which have a life of their own, they breathe, conjure images in your mind so vivid, you would feel you are in the midst of all that is unfolding between your eyes, in your mind.

Its as if good writers are good psychiatrists as well... how they would effortlessly read the human mind and its sea of thoughts, emotions and contradictions and then they would pick and choose the right ones and string them up together to create such beautiful and compelling stories. With words that are so damn powerful; unashamed, violent, ugly, brutally truthful, ripping the ugly face of nature and humankind open with all its innards out, shorn of all skin and cover, weak, decieving.... creating images of immense beauty, nature, sensitivity, kindness, love, hate and passion that can build and destroy lives and countries... i could almost hear the frogs croaking, the gurgle of the Teesta and maybe the flutter of the butterfly wings patched yellow and orange for a fleeting second.... or maybe i am just a very visual person... I even think in images most of the time while normally one would think in a particular language.

I have been part of the mountain life, but it was so long back that there are no immediate and vivid memories left... except for some. Everytime i go back home, i revisit the tiny black and white pictures from my childhood to keep the memories from fading away... yet some of the words mentioned in the book sound familiar and i felt a connection; teesta, kalimpong, baku, lepcha... I think my ma-in-law and my parents will have a stronger connect with the book since a significant part of their lives were spent in Darjeeling, tea-gardens and the northeast...

Anyway, tomorrow is another day and i am glad i am back to my reading rituals :)) a short break and then the faint fragrance of the bookshop that i so love awaits me...


And i screwed up the comments thing for the nth time... finally abandoned haloscan and came back home to blogger comments and in the bargain lost all my previous comments :(

Saturday, September 19, 2009


It has been pouring outside and i am in no mood to work. I resort to some hot tea to keep me awake. It does not help much coz when i stare at dear old photoshop i blank out. Nope, there is no inspiration today... zilch. My heart is not in this.. in this photoshop, or the blank canvas, or the air-conditioned office, while the skies pour their heart out.

I wish i was some place else... I wish i was anywhere else but here. Perhaps reading a book at home or just sleeping. The left arm has been playing traunt since yesterday, i am not sure why; strange thing is, it felt better after the yoga session in the evening, when it should be feeling worse after all the pressure and exercise. Perhaps my body is giving me signals that i am growing old and that its rusting at places, so it needs some oiling, some exercise and movement lest it rusts out completely. Point taken.

There's also nostalgia in the air, which contributes to lethargy and unwillingness to work. Its making me prone to daydreaming and escapism. It's pujo time again and even though, i dont anymore feel the pujo in the air, or smell the shiuli, the thought of that time of the year does something to the mind... it conjures up images from the childhood; i have often found myself going back to childhood references; is this an indication of 'inching towards old age'? i hope not.

So as i was saying, even though i dont smell the shiuli anymore, i feel the Pujo in my bones at this time of the year. Quite strange for someone who is agnostic, is not religious at all, has no place of worship at home or sits on the fence about all things spiritual. Perhaps because the pujos were/ are never a religious experience for many of us. Its just a bengali thing... to be contradictory... of believeing in marxism and shakti pujo in the same breath...

I think more than anything else, its the burst of colours, textures, tastes, the activities, the noise, the rythms...anticipation, appreciations... that have remained imprinted in my mind and its impossible to shrug these images off... not now... not ever.

I shall drag my dear husband to the pujos and i'll get to wear some of the gorgeous saris that i keep looking at so longingly at times! :)