About Thailand…

Guys, I ate Thailand. I know how much you were looking forward to going there; but sorry, it’s gone. Parts of Cambodia too — most of Sihanoukville.
I wasn’t expecting much from my trip to Thailand. In fact, we pinned the destination with some reluctance. All the desis go there, so we were wary. I am not fond of meeting my kind abroad. But it was cheap and a good place from which to kick-off some travel writing since I will be funding it myself until fame catches up.
But as we found out, it’s very hard to not have a good time in Thailand. I opened my mouth the minute I got off the plane and shut it only when I got back on.
We were there for nearly a month, with about a week spent in Cambodia. If I had to give you one piece of advice about travelling to the latter, it would be: Don’t exchange your dollars. If you asked for more, I would say: In Siem Reap, ask for Mr Hong. In a land of survivalist rickshaw drivers, you’ll want the gentle Mr Hong. Call him on +85512325405.

About Thailand, we did a bike trip, we went to Krabi, and we ate through the land. There’s a lot of food that went undocumented, but here’s some that didn’t:

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In Angkor Wat, when you order pancake with sugar and lemon, it’s an actual cake made in a pan. Dessert for lunch.

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I am not one for unidentifiable meat. My usual routine for meals was to point to the noodles, the vegetables I recognised and dump in shrimp. I are shrimp like it was salt. I ate variations of this mix, but my favourite was one with glass noodles. Cambodia does a spicier version.

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Sorta the same thing in a soup-y base. Point, point, pay.

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The Khmer barbecue makes you work for your meal. We no-thank-you to crocodile meat and settled for prawn, fish and chicken. Into the moat flow the meat juices, in which cook noodles and vegetables.

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Prawns in white pepper. Unremarkable. Siem Reap.

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Snakeskin fruit. Tangy. Bitch to peel.

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Most commercial establishments in Sihanouville are run by foreigners. We stayed at SeaView hotel which had happy hours for meals. This is vanilla ice-cream with a hot, fresh raspberry dribble. I’m sure it had a fancier name, but this is what it was. I had some nice salted orange liquor crepes from the French guy next door. Called again by a much fancier name that I can’t recall.

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Caramelised banana chips. Sugar is a vital component of all my meals.

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Sugar dusted bun filled with sweet rajma mash from a Japanese coffee shop on Sukhumvit Road, Thailand.

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I have recurring dreams about this Japanese bun. The fragile and crisp shell is a Swiss Bank for custard cream. Green Tea flavour is omnipresent in patisseries and the plain custard is good too. It’s at the Central World Mall food court if you are going. Pick up some for me please.

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An eggy-pork bun from Chatuchak weekend market. Not a fan.

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Also at Chatuchak, water chestnuts covered in a sort of jelly, I suspect China Grass, and served with chilled coconut milk and ice. Did not do it for me.

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Lemongrass juice. Too sweet. Even for me…

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Grilled various things. I had the banana and the sweet potato. Good for breakfast if you can’t find a fruit vendor.

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Deep fried dough coil covered with crystallised sugar syrup. At Chiang Mai night market.

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Passionfruit juice. Without sugar.

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Chewy waffles with coconut. Chiang Rai

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Mint flavoured candyfloss. Chiang Rai. My civilisation lacks flavoured candyfloss. My culinary inventor friends and I have often discussed how to amend this. This came in coils, that sat upon each other. Much fluffier and denser than our variety.

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Coconut milk dumplings. Meh. Chiang Saen. Saved me from eating food that couldn’t be bothered to disguise the fact that they were dead bodies.

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Like a sweet uttapam folded over coconut gratings that have been lolling indecently in sugar.

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Bangkok crepes are crispier, like dosas.

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Noodle soup in Krabi. Did not do it for TB.

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My travelling companion loves burgers. This one was at Good Dreams Hostel in Krabi town, and quite acceptable. Mike’s Original Burgers in Chiang Mai was our favourite.

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Green curry with shrimp.

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One of my favourite things to do while travelling is check out the bhaji market. I usually buy fruits for breakfast because I’m crankiest on an empty stomach. Fuelled, I am all set to look for a second breakfast. Thailand handed me little packet of cut fruits at every corner. Some I forgot to photograph in my havratness. Raw and ripe mangoes, Chinese apples, berries and some I didn’t recognise. Above are mangosteen, rambutan and a kind of pear.

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A whoopee pie at Bangkok

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coconut icecream with roasted peanuts

Coconut ice-cream at Bangkok and Chiang Saen. I liked the northern cousin better, topped with roasted peanuts.

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A Japanese cheessecake with green tea layer. That rosette felt like red bean paste. Most curious.

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Ancient ice cream in Taro root flavour. Creamy. Didn’t have a chance to try all the flavours — my stomach could not process as quickly as I ate.

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Crispy pancakes with sweet egg cream and salty desiccated coconut. I met these guys on our second night in Thailand and only weaned myself off after I ate 25 of them in Chiang Rai.

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We did a road trip to the golden triangle and enroute, there were roadside vendors selling pineapples. I scored this little fellow. Juicier and less tart than the Indian variety.

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Dragonfruit juice. A lot of our gluttony played out against the background of the Chiang Mai night market. I was a real lady of the night there.

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I don’t remember what juice. Not pineapple, or dragon fruit. Chrysanthemum?

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Classic waffles with plum sorbet. Tart. Chiang Mai night market.

Malay crispy pancakes2

Malay crispy pancakes2

Crispy Malay pancakes, more visible as you go south. I was introduced to them on Ao Nang beach and promptly consumed three. The lady selling them was flattered. They come in dozens of versions and so many escaped my clutches. My favourites were the crispy, lemon and sugar, and cinnamon avatars.

Things missed:
Fried seaweed: Available at 7/11.
Sushi by the penny: Rows of sushi arranged by price. Five to 15 Baht tops. So for under Rs 500, you can pack in a lot of raw fish and rice foreplay. I beginning to find my food-sex references disturbing.
So many burgers
Chicken satay
This glass noodle, shrimp thing at a street vendor in Bangkok
Kaukswe at a noodle house in Bangkok

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We want to live in Pune

Pune is in the middle of a real estate explosion and it’s really building aspiration. All manner of adjectives are being enrolled to sell us homes. No hyperbole is safe. Nothing is beyond belief.

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For instance, you should live at Balmoral estate just for the pleasure of watching mythical humanoid- animals romp around the compound. Judging from the sign in the right-hand corner, UK has made some heavy investments in Pune.

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In this complex, the surfaces are always dustless, home-makers make dinner wearing gowns and elevator music fills the air.

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Unlike it’s crass neighbour, Pune hires wholesomeness. Milind Gunaji is their poster boy. Instead of leggy, pouty, east European models, narayan-peth and nath wearing homely beauties sell you cars and atta. Still, I can’t equate Sharman Joshi with sophistication and elegance, even if he does have a Greek column.

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Are you cheerfully ready? Prompt and willing? Are liveliness and briskness your middle names? This is the address for you.

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Wanna do something naughty on date night? Hook up with them.

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Some places recommend fiscal imprudence.

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Others hint disturbing intimacy.

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And liveliness.

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Here’s a building called Pride Purple.

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There was even one that sold a 2BHK in the crotch of an armored angel, but I missed taking a picture of it.

Which brings us to the question, what would you name a housing complex?

Tushar: I’ve waited 9 years for you to ask me this question. Anthony wadi.

Life updates

1. We let Boo go on the 27th of June. He went as he lived — fussed over by his family, chewing greens, oblivious to needles.

2. I went to Singapore for work and trespassed for leisure.

3. I won the highest praise at work. It’s the first time I have won anything. When I was 14 and weighed 43 kilos at 5 feet 6 inches, I was pulled on stage during the Christmas ball for a competition on the narrowest waist. I didn’t even win that. So I want ‘Displays Excellence’ inscribed on a watch, but a typo so I stay humble.

4. For the first time in 19 years, I am devoid of animal companionship. It feels like living without electricity.

5. My hair is getting curlier.

Highlights of my stay in Ba’ram

1. The old man with four dogs and umbrella with doggie pictures asks me, “India?”. “Yes.” “Eechak dana, eechak dana. Indian, no?”

2. When I leave work every day, my boss says, “Thank you girls. Thank you for everything.” Sometimes, she gives us chocolate or cake.

3. My extremely aggressive and controlled room-mate gets wasted. The others wake me up to take care of her because they’re too drunk to handle her. She keeps asking for the English Girl, saying she’s her room-mate and stumbles into her corridor. The English girl runs into her room and locks the door. She then starts puking violently into the lawn, while the Nice Swedish Guy says soothingly, “Don’t worry, Sunny-D is here.” The red-haired Swedish girl is trying to calm her claustrophobia by instructing her to breathe in, breathe out. The Colombian Couple are calling out from the staircase, “That’s right L**! Throw the devil out.”

4. My shy South Korean roommate asks: Do you make frat in front of friends? D made frat in front of me. I think it’s very rude.

5. Things L says. For example: She looks like she can’t count till 10.

6. The Columbian Twins have a Bitchy High School Girls thing going on. One of them, M, has been thrown out of every job on the kibbutz for a. Being lazy b. Licking her boyfriend and distracting others c. Being bossy. Unfortunately for her, she tries to tell L how to do her job of pasting stickers on apple boxes. L: “I am not your fucking child. You don’t fucking tell me how to do the job. I am not fucking working for you. You are slowly and surely getting on my nerves.” M says something in Spanish to other Columbian volunteers and gives out a high pitched laugh. L, thrusting her palm in M’s face: You see this? I will fucking smack you right here.” Work halts and the managers pull L away. M’s Swedish boyfriend walks by, giving L hard looks. L yells at him, “IS THERE A FUCKING PROBLEM?” We make L tell the story again and again for the rest of the day.

7. The Member’s club behind Dinning that has comfortable seats, soft lights, magazines, 12 flavours of herbal tea, many types of coffee and cakes and cookies. It opens three times a week and I sit there sipping my tea, watching the members playing with their grandchildren on Shabbath, wearing their best. Some of the founder members still dress like it’s an evening in Europe — coiffed hair, silver barrettes, polished shoes and scarves.

8. The flowers. Made more awe-inspiring by the knowledge that the orchards and forests in this hills were hand-planted by kibbutzims, 60 years ago. The garden in Ba’ram, in particular, is looked after by a lady who has done this job since she was 17. She looks like she’s in her mid 60s and drives around in a modded golf cart with a stuffed doggie splayed across the steering wheel.

9. Pancake Wednesdays. Olives. Cottage cheese with olive oil on toast and tomatoes.

10. Things that happen in the bomb-shelter — poker nights, PlayStation wars, Hebrew classes, Karate classes and hormonal hook-ups.

Observations from a recent holiday

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1. Shifty touts come up to us and offer “couples private rooms”. Man, I’m in a car with a drooling dog. Do I look like I’m here for a weekend of rampant sex?
Romantically inclined couples do not look us. Let’s spot the signs, shall we?
New couple: Usually, the girl is dressed in a co-ordinated holiday outfit. Matching tracks and hoodie, etc. The man gets out of the car and approaches the tout with authority. The girl sits in the car and pretends not to know what’s going on. In her head, she’s repeating her defensive quotes or picking a fake name to sign under. The man strikes a deal, gets into the car and drives to the place. He may stop for birth control apparatus.
Long term couple: Woman gets out of the car while man mutters about impossible parking; he hollers after her to hurry back. He hopes she takes long enough for a smoke.
She’s things she hopes to throw into the hotel’s bin. The hair is windblown, but not artistically so. Both of them look exasperated and want to get through the vacation with minimal screaming. The only time they’ll jump at the chance of “private, couples room” is so that no one sees them burying the body at night.
They decide no price is big enough for warm water and the company of middle-aged and retired people

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2. In Mahabaleshwar, I change into shorts and tee to go to the market. We’d planned a beach holiday and had packed accordingly. We find ourselves ill-equipped for the hills.
People wonder if I’m cold. Dude, I live in Bombay. Freezing to death would be a pleasure. Every other similarly dressed person passes with a slight nod: How hard-core are we!

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3. The people in the monkey cap, wearing every item of winter clothing they own, have to be from my city. The ones wearing cowboy hats and multi-pocketed canvas jackets, from Pune. Milind Gunaji is very popular there.

It's good to be a dog

4. I could walk naked through a market if I had my dog with me. The fucker is quite intimidating. Not when he makes that face, of course.

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5. The food at Mahabaleshwar caters to the Jain-Gujju crowd. Even the non-veg. TB spent an excruciating three meals without meat before we charged into a Mughlai joint and then ran back out.
On our way back to the hotel, we chanced into a Parsi joint that sold all things essential for the Zarthoshti life:
Meat and potatoes
Medicines
Music
Foreign foods
Dog food
I fear they have your nose revoked if you don’t subscribe to any of the above.

Boker-tov!

Aaji’s test results are in and she is doing much better than expected. So back to our previously scheduled program.

***

Before all this happened, we went to Israel! Yes we did!
And though I did have a long and detailed post in mind, reality has knocked it out of me and you’ll have to settle for highlights. Or you can read this article by an excellent writer that has a very few, negligible errors that you will be tempted to forgive.

· Not too many people speak English fluently, but they sing along to 80s and 90s pop hits played on the radio. Rad!

· The youth seem unapproachable, and the middle-aged men keep asking if you liked the boys/girls.

· Everyone dresses like they walked out of a European magazine. We arrived at 3 am and at 8 am TB runs up from breakfast to say, “You are going to die of anxiety! The girls here dress up! In coats! And boots!” I had packed tracks and walking shoes. Needless to say, shopping followed and was regretted.

· There was a road dedicated to wedding dresses. I considered buying one to wear around the house — they were fabulous. The one after that had hair salons; I was tempted to get my hair done at the one with the moping Golden Retriever.

· Dogs are everywhere — they follow their master’s cycles into malls, into shops in malls; they’re on the street, in restaurants, in salons. I’ve never been more popular.

· However, there are no stray dogs. Only big Persian stray cats which stalk Chihuahuas. I’m afraid of what this could mean.

· Strawberries are the size of plums. I ate my weight in olives.

· An Israeli breakfast is a thing of wonder — my only meal of the day.

· Lipton Ice Tea comes in four flavours — peach, lemon, mint and diet. Only the mint tastes different.

· Eighteen-to-20-year-olds, who are serving their mandatory term in the army, carry guns everywhere. But since they are still teenagers, they wear their fatigues dangerously low and carry tiny pink Barbie purses. Current trends demand that you carry your M16 slung side-ways across your back.

· Nothing comes with cheese or butter in it. Who expected Israel to be kosher? Some of us had a hard time adjusting to that.

· We were frequently asked “Jewish?” No. “Christian?”. No “Muslim?” No, Hindu. Then they’d shrug and walk away.

· Jerusalem is as lovely as promised; I’m too dowdy for Tel Aviv; Nazareth makes my womb panic.

· Tel Aviv is so small, it distorts time. When locals say something is “very far, 30 minutes away,” it’s usually 10.

· Commercialism killed the kibbutz. Farewell one more long-cherished dream.

· If you don’t say “Sha (high)-lom (low)” in a sing-song way, you’re really killing it.

· Everyone has a pierced nose and the really hip kind of piercing (with a wire) is done in the most expensive part of town. They have no idea where it comes from.

· Most women smoke; most men don’t.

· I ask man if he has a light, and he graciously says, “ For you, anything!” then hesitates “…or is it everything? What you say?”. “Marry me?”

· When you say you’re from India, they start talking about drugs. They think it grows as freely as marijuana.

· The flea market at Yaffo/Jaffa is crowded with stuff from Colaba Causeway/Goa.

Wait, I also have pictures

Standing close enough to catch the crumbs of Tushar’s good fortune

TB: It’s like whenever I get a little depressed, the universe feels bad.
ET: You mean it goes, “Ale le le beta, don’t cry. Here’s a large sum of money and a car?”
TB: Exactly!

All I get is a more hits on my blog.
I’m kidding. I also get your goodwill. BUT NOT ENOUGH TO GET ME A CAR.

***

What we were talking about is the free car that has just dropped into our laps. Tushar’s kindergarten friend *Suhail Bhatia had a 1994 118 NE lying about in his Pune office, and since TB has unbearable goodwill with most people, Suhail offered it to us for the token price of Rs 1,000.

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I hope he meant in instalments.
The car drives miraculously well — Suhail drove it from Pune to our place without any problems. I drove it for a few minutes too, but Suhail was unable to bear the fact that two Fiats had overtaken us and shoved me aside. Then he overtook them and felt like a man again. I can prove it.

The car is ugly but reliable and gives a little more average than Tushar’s bike, a 1984 RD 350. I told you his religion doesn’t allow him to buy anything built in this century.
Hopefully, we will brush up our driving skills in this car and reduce the chances of banging about the new car we intend to buy in a few months.

Tushar is mighty embarrassed to be seen in the NE and does not intend to take it out of our suburb. But I have no shame (I spent my life in a run-down VW Beetle and Amazon. You kids know nothing about shame) and am appreciative of anything free.

Suhail Bhatia

Here’s our benign benefactor who has bestowed his benevolence upon us.

*Suhail Bhatia was also the bartender at our wedding, which is why I am grinning so widely in all the photographs. And also why I am not in most photographs. He goes out of his way to be good, kind and just to everybody, and extremely annoying to me.

** TB wants me to add that the 118 NE is a Fiat 124 derivative, the European car of the year 1967. I still don’t see him driving it.