Hello China!

I first went backpacking in 2013 with my then boyfriend through south India. It was a wild adventure across train delays, flooded roads, breath-taking landscapes, amazing fellow travelers and discovering what it means to get high on the road. Not on spirit or drugs or sugar but on the pure bliss of travel!

We went horse-riding in Matheran, caught fireflies in Kamshet, surfed in Pondicherry, camped in the wild at BR Hills and enjoyed a night under the stars in Auroville. Pune had us partying with friends, Goa had us awestruck at the beauty of a raging monsoon along virgin coastline and Bangalore reminded us of the joys of street food.

This time, in a few hours from now, we’re headed off to China. Oh, my then boyfriend is my husband today.  (We have a crazy story! Check here for more) We will meet up with a dear friend in Shanghai and then fly, drive, hot-foot it and maybe even sail through this vast, fascinating land!

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China, here we come!

Our bags are packed and we’re itching to go. China, we look forward to you!

PS- if you have any tips for us, drop us a line. We probably have a few more hours of connectivity. If not, see you when we re-surface!

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Roadside Chai in Pune
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Zen at an intersection

It beats me why I chose this spot to zone out and zen in. In retrospect, perhaps because it’s a fitting analogy to my present status.
Today is day 1 of my 19th month in a new country. While I have a lot going for me, I also have a lot going against. I love Hamburg and the life it offers me, nonetheless there are constantly new hurdles I need to step over, sometimes stomp on or just let fly.

Take for instance Ms. Pretentious in my licensing exam class (in German) who made her disdain of my language very audible. Upon finding out I’m new (relatively) she switched gears and offered to coach me (at a ridiculous price) on my pronunciation. I, of course, happily let her know that she could go fly a kite. In not so many words as actions. Needless to say, she reverted to her former disdain.

Back to finding Zen. For many of us caught in the cross hairs of life; it’s easy to let chaos overwhelm. There’s many a contender vying for top peeve- boss, the absence of or the presence of a partner, a kid, family, money. There’s always illness, an addiction, pesky neighbours, the weather, you don’t need to look far.

So today after Ms. Pretentious grated my nerves once again, I let off steam by cycling a couple of kilometres and found myself sitting cross-legged on a park bench. The soothing hot chocolate in my hand manages to calm more than my hungry stomach.

The intersection is buzzing with traffic, cyclists whizz past, dogs are being walked, children are being cycle- trained and the occasional tramp gives me a curious look.

I find my ears tuning in to the cheerful cries of tiny birds. My nose picks up the scent of spicy chicken being roasted across the street​. My skin tingles in confusion, unable to decide if it feels warm or cold. For though the sun is shining, a cool breeze of 16°C takes over intermittently.

As I allow my senses to be soaked in the stimuli around me; I suddenly feel completely at peace. My heart no longer runs a race, my lungs breathe freely and deeply and the tension in my muscles slowly leaves.

The devil’s advocate in me gets vocal and asks- so how does this solve all of your other challenges

The Zen I’ve tapped into answers- it doesn’t. 

So this was an exercise in futility. 

Most certainly not. Now that I feel better, I deal better.

A barking dog breaks me out of this dialogue in my head and I notice how light I feel.

To some it might seem strange and silly. But to me, this was a lesson in Zen. A lesson in being fully present in the moment and realising that-

I dont need to have all the answers. Nor a problem free life. I just need to BE. Just be ME.

Go and flow

I’m going to my home of choice

Yet as I leave my home of birth

I feel a pang of pain

It’s goodbye now, until we meet again
This dichotomy of life

Present at every turn

Transitioning from old to new

Another dawn, a different hue

Change is inspiring and scary

Both exciting and jarring

Motion is but a way of life

We decide if it’s joy or strife
Growing older, parting ways

Leaving known territories

And being on the go

Hey beautiful I say, let it flow!
Nicola Coutinho

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. 😉

 

 

The Angels Smiled

Dedicated to the soulmate I found when I was 16. Continents apart then and today, I marvel at “how close despite how far” we are…. 

The angels smiled

Oh yes they did

When to their own

Farewell they bid

 

His journey set

A task anew

Reformed and invisible

The wings he knew

 

A tricky job

This cherub had

To find his ward

And make her glad

 

A wailing babe

Soon was born

All past memories

Erased and gone

 

Steady he grew

Years flew by

All seemed perfect

Yet somehow dry

 

Travelling the world

He sought to find

An answer to quiet

His soul and mind

Across mountains

And seas away

He struck gold

One fine summer day

 

There she was

Her eyes met his

Laughter spilled forth

It was hard to miss

 

Two hearts destined

To meet again

The past came back

Like refreshing rain

 

Each recalled

And skipped in delight

Souls searing

With love so bright

 

Both cherubs

Left their mark

To carry one another

Thru’ light and dark

 

The angels smiled

At both their own

The wings came back

And halos were worn

 

We each have our angels

So rich and divine

And you dear friend

You are mine!

-Nicola Coutinho