An Indian, a German & a Puerto Rican backpack in China Part 1

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I spent mine birthday in China- more specifically in Shanghai- and like a proper 31 year old, at Disneyland! ❤ Oh the joys of letting your inner child run wild to the adventures of Daisy, Mickey and the Lion King!

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Three of us- J, K and N backpacked through China for a whole two weeks and what a roller-coaster experience it was! I felt like a rag doll lost in stormy seas of countless moving human bodies; everywhere, at ALL times! At Disney I felt like a princess like one rightly should!

THE WONDER WALL

The Great Wall of 22,000 kms had us humbled and in awe of how far human capacity can stretch. Our awe soon morphed into an irresistible desire to strike yoga poses despite the pouring rain. The terrible weather meant we were relatively alone and that my friend, in a country of 1.3 billion is a priceless moment. After imposing skyscrapers, the Forbidden City and chaos of Beijing, the Wall was a breath of fresh air! You stop, take in the peace and work your magic. Rest assured, I was on cloud nine.

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SUNRISE AT THE GOLDEN SUMMIT

Our hiking instincts kicked in hard and fast when we decided to trek to the summit of Mount Emei at 3,100 metres. It was a grueling 11 hour, 15,000 stair affair. (The equivalent of around 380 stories) Yes, stairs! But don’t be fooled for a minute. They only go up. Higher and higher and never ending. You think you’re done but there’s always another stairway waiting to bite you in the bum. Well, in my case- the knees and the back too. While J happily skipped to the top like a mountain goat, K and I were like slow-motion figures creaking up the mountain with rickety bamboo sticks.

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As if this wasn’t tough enough, the climb has it’s homegrown brand of Scary-house. Huge, aggressive monkeys that jump out at you and go straight for whatever food/clothing/bags/camera/phone you made the mistake of carrying. After 11 hours of being on pins and needles, anticipating an attack; we made it safely to the top. I did however see a man get bitten on the ankle, another literally pushed over (he disrespected King Kong’s comfort zone, so he had it coming) and several others unceremoniously stripped off their food bags.

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All the trials and tribulations of the trail were a forgotten memory as we reached our goal.

5:45 am at the Golden Summit which houses the world’s highest Buddha: The massive statue is bathed in dark hues of pre-dawn hours. As light shyly breaks through cottony clouds, the statue shimmers to life. Crowds wait patiently for the young sun to show itself. While brilliant shades of purple, pink and yellow dance before our eyes, it seems like his majesty will not appear.

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Then suddenly, when we least expect it, a soft orange sphere bobs up in the distance. Thanks to our altitude, it’s almost as if we are watching sunrise unfold from the seats of the Gods.

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As the orange blob grows bigger and brighter, dazzling rays cascade upon us and we are soaked. Soaked in golden light, soaked in emotion and soaked in the simplistic beauty of a spectacular sunrise.

We cried.

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FANCY SOME DUCK’S BLOOD? 

My duo and I craved a warm beverage after the morning’s excitement. Now naturally, one thinks of tea or coffee. China taught me to think, live and eat out of the box. All we could find was steaming hot soup.

In all my travels thus far, I hadn’t come across a culture that explored, broke and relished the boundaries of food. The Chinese reign supreme at it. My dear palate and tummy had the time of their lives. It was usually a minute to minute decision to either churn and turn me green or to go for the Yum-card!

My system smiled in acceptance at fish and veggies in a Hot Pot (a Sichuan-special boiling concoction of spices, oils and water in which you cook your food at your table); gourmet quality Peking duck (relished with sugar, soy and an array of spices); cold noodles in Leshan, grilled Yak meat on sticks and a delicious egg/something pie in Shangrila.

What had me running for the hills was: Duck’s blood, baby chicks on skewers, pig’s elbow and; get ready for it…. Ox penis!

I stopped asking why.

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Between the three of us, J was the only one with working knowledge of Mandarin. So while his request for tea was sometimes understood as a plea for alcohol; he is the reason we sailed over the language barrier in what we thought was style…

However, we figured a new way of ordering once his vocabulary had reached it’s limits. We simply pointed to dishes on the menu. Of course we had fingers, toes and eyes crossed until the food arrived. 9 out of ten times our randomness paid off. The rest of the time, well…

THESE TECH-SAVVY CHINESE

The first time I was asked for a photograph, I was mighty confused which side of the camera to stand on. Soon I got used to posing with complete strangers and then, using J’s mandate, taking a picture on my phone of the surprised stranger. I guess the three of us together probably caught more than a passing glance. A Puerto rican, a German and an Indian backpacking through China

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Curious Chinese often asked how we know each other, whether we met on the road… When language permitted, we explained that two of us go back a decade as flatmates and best friends, two of us are married to each other and two of us are discovering how it is to get along like a house on fire. If language was not an option, we used hands, feet and faces.

China being extremely advanced in technology, had no shortage of translation Apps which our friendly waiters, drivers and hostel hosts regularly shoved under our chins.

I was struck by how little paper money I saw in China. 80% of payments are cashless, through Apps like We Chat and Ali Pay. Additionally,  everybody seems glued to their phones. Noses buried deep in virtual worlds, the masses looked like question mark figures in humble submission to hand-held addictions.

Perhaps a side-effect of so much technology?

….Check Part 2 to re-live the most adorable part of our journey……

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How many countries at my breakfast table?

Take a guess maybe?

Being one half of an Indo-German couple; I often get asked how we handle/manage food?

We don’t.

We celebrate it. And not just Indian and German. Why should we restrict ourselves when the World is our oyster? And our Panini, Baklava, Bacalhau, Nasi goreng, …. I could go on for days…

My spread at breakfast jumped out at me today. I actually put my hunger on hold for a whole five minutes to appreciate how beautifully 7 countries came together before me. (Maybe more, I counted in a hurry.)

Sigh, if only this could be translated to today’s trend of dividing politics and racial clashes!

Not to end on a wishful note, can anyone pick out these countries from the photo above? 2 should be easy enough….

Food for my soul

Have you ever found yourself in a bowl of something delicious? Well, I sure have. Found myself I mean, in bowls of food. Both spiritually and literally. (Pun intended)

You have to admit that very often a taste of something that tingles those gustatory nerves makes you feel alive once more. Makes you want to step out into a different phase- whether new, bold, exciting or at the very least- into a satisfied, peaceful, post-prandial slumber.

I’ve just had a particularly discouraging day since my 16 months in Germany. I used the 6 km brisk walk home to burn through my bubbling frustration. However, my nose decided to lead me astray every few meters. It invariably caught the scent of freshly brewed coffee, tantalizing Mexican cuisine and pungent Indian curries. 3km into my furious walk and I succumbed to the not-so-subtle rumblings of my rather angry stomach. I jumped onto a train and headed straight to a little authentic Indian place called Badshah at Hansaplatz in Hamburg. As the name suggests, you are treated to food worthy of a king.


In the flurry of five minutes it took the friendly staff to get my order ready, familiar smells of home were already releasing the tense knots which were once my muscles. I did indeed find myself in this simply superb plate of Chole Bhature– red, hot chickpea curry relished with fried bread. (Here are more details for the curious and brave-hearted).

It amazed me how comfortable I felt in this chaotic, colourful, noisy place where Indians and non-Indians alike bonded over food. Most of the latter category, surrounded by piles of tissue to calm their shocked noses. For me, raw spice has the most soothing effect. Home truly is where the spice is!

Much to my surprise, my affair with exotic food for the day was not done. Friends from an old language class invited me to L’Amira– a Syrian restaurant (a stone’s throw away from Badshah’s).

We had many bowls of yum to find ourselves in. My favourite was once again a chickpea based dish called Fatteh.

My Syrian friends, as is custom back home, broke into song once we finished our meal. Needless to say, the Germans around us raised more than just their eyebrows. It wasn’t difficult to read their minds- “These crazy foreigners!”

Oh, how my spirits soared!

Happy and sleepy, my body set out to digest my soul food and I made my groggy way home. I climbed under the sheets and as expected, my big disappointment from earlier in the day came back to bite me in the bum. Sad and down but once again, saved by my nose. It picked up the aroma of comfort -fresh mint tea this time, served with a big hug from the hubby. What a darling I thought!

Only now, as I lie awake with the events of the day coursing through my mind and tummy; I wonder what the mint tea was really meant for. To comfort a sorrowful wife or to protect from the cheerful effect of one too many chickpeas?

Let’s say I don’t want to know.

PS- go get your fill of chickpea goodness if you are close to either of these two places. Maybe just not both on the same day. 😉

 

 

Day 24: National Chocolate Day

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The picture says it all. You know exactly where that delicious chocolate belongs…. and it rhymes with yummy…. 😉

It’s now only 1 day until Christmas and I must say I’m going to miss our Advent activities.

So to go out with a bang, here’s the whole list of ADVENTuring we did. Today’s your last chance to catch up with whatever you’ve missed.

 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New year 2017! Cheers!

Day 19: Bake

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It’s not much longer until Christmas. So while we’re waiting, I figured we could use the time to bake.

The place I come from, Goa, celebrates its Liberation Day today. Being a state holiday, families use the free day in preparation for Christmas. I grew up with the tradition of making goodies with the family every 19th of December. Pots, pans and flour flew all over the place as Kormolas, Neureos and Nankatais merrily roasted themselves to perfection. As a kid it was my job to shape the cookies and sweets. What a glorious, beautiful, happy mess I made.

Since I moved halfway across the world last year, I will miss my family-goodie-making session today. I’m comforted by the promise of seeing my family in under a week.

I hope you can bake or make some Christmas delicacies today. The hard work pays off in the end when you inhale the sweet aroma of freshly baked bread rolls, crisp cinnamon stars and warm apple strudel! What bliss when these exquisite tastes warm your soul. Christmas is definitely almost here…in 6….

PS- Happy Liberation Day to my fellow Goenkars!

Also, Christmas is a time to be together and my heart goes out to those that might have to spend it alone. To those in Goa reading this- if you or anyone you know would like to share Christmas lunch with my family and I, we have a place at our table. Do send me a private message and let me know.

Day 13: Let’s scream for Ice-cream

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No flairs about today. Just reap the child-like joy of sinking your teeth, tongue and being into the deliciousness of an ice-cream.

The simple pleasures we once enjoyed as kids, so easily forgotten in this madness we call our world.

The cold feel of the creamy delight, melting on your lips. The crunch of the crisp, chocolate dotted cone. Noisy slurps as you try not to waste even a drop. Frozen wonders trickling into your tummy and leaving behind a cool breeze of satisfaction.

Short-lived no doubt, but isn’t that a piece of heaven?

If you need to come up to speed with the last half of Advent; here’s what you missed: