Tag: culture

Connected in Translation at Hong Kong Airport

IMG_3736 I remember back to nearly ten years ago when I was sat, stranded, waiting for a connecting flight in Hong Kong. Glancing out of the window, rows of planes were lined up in front of the barely visible runway, thanks to a mini-typhoon that had all but shut the airport down.

 I stretched back in my seat trying to shake off pins and needles that, after a few hours of sitting motionless in a waiting area, were cramping my legs. The air-conditioning was spluttering out warm and humid air. A woman sitting opposite me was fanning her face with a newspaper. Announcements echoed apologies for delayed flights down the endlessly long corridors.

 I watched as the rain cascaded in heavy drops, bouncing down. I could see pools of water forming on the runway. The wind was howling and the sea surrounding the airport was spilling white, diamond-tipped waves violently in all directions. I watched the few flights that were taking off ascending shakily as I exchanged promises with god over the safety of my own flight.

 I shuffled in my seat as a girl sat down next to me. “Hi, my name is Kim.  I am from Manila. Where are you going?” she asked.

 I looked up. Smiling back at me was a petite woman in her mid 20’s dressed in a bright pink jogging suit, with equally pink matching painted lips and waves of black curls bouncing down to her shoulders. Big golden hoops hung from her ears.

 Kim explained that she was going to London to visit her brother who was studying there. “This is the second time I have been to London’ she announced proudly.  “I will go to the place, at Bucking’.

I laughed. “Do you mean Buckingham Palace?” I asked.

“Yes, this is the one” she exclaimed.

 Kim whipped out her phone, which was also pink and covered in glitter that sprinkled off onto her fingers. She tapped into it and beamed as she showed me pictures of her and her brother stood next to a variety of famous London landmarks.

She told me that she liked tea and Britney Spears. I told her that I liked coffee and Billie Holliday.

 We both agreed that we liked the ocean and sunsets.

 After disappearing for ten minutes, Kim returned with 2 boxes of food (filled with fish, steamed rice, and green vegetables). We were famished and dug in.

 Kim described pieces of paradise of remote islands sitting in the southern Philippine archipelago. I exchanged stories of the tourist resorts and the not-quite-so beautiful beaches that dotted the Yorkshire coast. Kim told me that she wanted to go to Bridlington and eat fish and chips. I told her that I wanted to swim in the ocean off the tropical coast of Mindano.

Kim took her flight to London and I took mine. I sometimes wonder what she’s doing all these years later.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always found something curiously exciting about airports. They get under my skin. There’s something about the hustle and bustle of people connecting to the world’s vast and remote corners.

I’ve crossed paths with all kinds of people in airports over the years – Buddhist monks journeying to central China, a man returning to his family in Iraq, an Indonesian lady travelling as a domestic worker to the Middle-East, an elderly couple returning home to Bangladesh, who shared their boiled sweets with me, as they told me about their grand-daughter’s wedding, students travelling to Europe. Everyone’s moving for a myriad of reasons. Each travelling with a unique life story printed upon their soul –  holiday makers seeking sun chill outs, people moving to reunite with their family or loved-ones, to see friends, for work, to start a new life, to seek new opportunities, adventure seekers or others who are running away from something. All displaced – some from what’s comfortable and others from what’s routine. Our paths crossing.

There’s also something strange about airports. These are places, where, despite all the movement, you’re essentially stuck in the middle of nowhere. A pseudo reality. Impersonal. Marbled floors, perfume filled duty free counters and endless halls, filled with rows of chairs, where the venue never really discloses much about its destination of origin. Sitting at LAX (where Donna Karen’s trying to sell you her duty free American Dream) probably doesn’t feel that dissimilar to sitting at CDG airport, despite being thousands of miles apart.

Years later, when I think back to the girl dressed in pink and gold earrings, I realise that we were both, for that moment, caught in nowhere. We were connected, for a brief moment, in a world which tries its best not to disconnect us from the bubble of all but that which is familiar. But what’s wrong with the unfamiliar? Nothing at all. I think we should all, occasionally, seek to disconnect from what’s familiar and make a connection with the unfamiliar.

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Derelict Zones and Jazz Bar Blues

 

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During hot summers

they used to walk through the neon lit streets at 3am.

They were seduced on freewill

falling in and out of basement jazz bars

in derelict zones.

Music in their souls

and abstraction in their minds.

Never short of courage

sipping whisky neat

drinking hours away

running out of days

feeling abundance and horizons infinite

whilst walking straight towards the heavy hearted bonfire of destruction.

They traced their path to nirvana

inventing their path

away from the banal.

Searching for the reality that both attracted and repelled them.

The novelty of everything was unexpected and effortless.

Life stretched out everlasting

and truth tempted their souls off the narrow path of the paradox

towards the only truth that they wanted

mysterious and inexplicable

the truth which they couldn’t put into words

which couldn’t fit into a single story.

Genghis Khan and the Ice Temples of Central Asia

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I awoke to the sensation of dawn rising.

 

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Somewhere between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

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41,000 feet above.

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Bound for central China.

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The cabin was silent but for me,

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as the black night yielded to the dawn.

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The closed, mysterious, secretive and distant lands of the republics of the former Soviet Empire lay shut beneath me.

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Sapphire glows pleated the ledge between Heaven and the Earth.

 

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Dawn’s cautious sunlight sprinkled the horizon with its amber glow.

 

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Lonely, apricot coloured, clouds drifted past me through the vast, empty sky.

 

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Crossing the lands which mark the border between Islam and Buddhism.

 

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Ancient seats of nomadic empires laid in horizonless steppes.

 

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Silk roads holding secrets deep.

 

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Passing over lands where Ghenghis Khan had once weaved his armies,

 

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bringing Empires remote violently down onto their knees.

 

 

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Frozen lakes.

 

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Crystal clear torrents.

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Glaciers running slowly through icy veins.

 

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Rippling gales chasing bareness, everywhere.

 

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Endless white planes.

 

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Centuries old. Wild and untouched.

 

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Sparse villages.

 

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Stony mountains climbing so high I could almost reach out and touch them.

 

 

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Inhospitable lands,

 

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cut by time and dreaded weather,

 

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lay frozen,

promising to hold off summer and spring.

I felt like I was at the earth’s edge.

 

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And, as I drifted further East,

I thought of you,

as winter stretched out everlasting,

and my warm tears threatened to melt the snow beneath me.

 

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A Midsummer-Night’s Dream in France

We cycled through rolling fields of golden wheat back to the hidden house.

The wheat turned yellow as far as the eye could see.

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The sky was wide and trackless, and

the sun shone on the stone of the little commune house, standing deep in the woods, as we approached.

 

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The sultry sounds of yesterday evening’s party long evaporated,

 

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where glasses had been filled to the brim,

where we’d eaten from shared plates filled with meats and bread,

as children wove around our legs,

with the murmur of voices, laughter, singing and dancing escaping into the air,

and the heavy sounds of jazz music spun us into the moonlit night as the darkened sky harked to the owls.

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Today, we lay on our backs, in the grass, facing the sky.

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Not another soul around us.

Not another sound except for the babbling brook and the cry of the larks.

All still.

Idling in the heat of the late afternoon sun.

Dragon flies glimmering in the hazy light.

Not a thought in our heads.

The leaves rustled in the ruffle of the woods and wildflowers danced around us.

As you spoke to me in French, through the hush of the gentle breeze,  Oberon and Titania whispered the forest’s secrets back to us.

The whole world ceased to exist but for that which immediately surrounded us.

We were the last people standing in paradise as Athena departed and Cupid’s bow landed.

And as dusk began its descent, the spokes of the florid twilight reached out to us as we bid adieu to our secret hideaway.

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Can we live without everything but that which is essential?

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If you were asked what, out of all the possessions which varnish your life, are essential and indispensable, what would you say?

In a world where our identity doesn’t last forever we hold onto our possessions as our lives are recast against their image.

Spending money in languid displays because this is the reality where the external face matters.

The image of your carefully poised champagne glass. The way your success sparkles on Instagram. A rolex kissed wrist. The car that’s worth more than a year’s salary.

Where winning is a reality which doesn’t exist but for that which we can see, touch, own.

Lacklustre products become the yardsticks of our success.

Corporates know we run in packs. If they sell to one of us, they’ve sold to us all.

Dazzled by consumer choices in a kaleidoscope of ironic consumption pointing towards a loss of real and meaningful choices.

Naturalised into thinking this is human nature. Breeding competition and envy.

Do you feel left out?

Are your needs met?

We’re bombarded by aspirational living. Makeovers that will change your life. Contoured celebrities. Designer purses. Fake tans. Big houses. Expensive schools. Desperate housewives promoted from every remote corner of the States communicating what it takes to be a real woman in 2016. Celebrities creating desires and needs relating to clothes and ways of life fueled by money and consumption. Content that you’ve got the most elegant diamond until instagram flashes a picture of that girl whose diamonds shine brighter than yours. And the cloned aspiration cycle churns into action again in a system which is allegedly supposed to have been designed to meet human needs. Brand ambitions selling their version of the good life. The version that sticks.

If we peel back the excess in our lives would we still recognise ourselves?

Is it possible that we could we live without everything but that which is essential?

Where things that are all the rage are not for sale.

 

Thailand – Fried Eggy on De Toppy? Bubbie Tea?

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In Thailand a large number of dishes are accompanied with a fried egg on the side.

At a particular favourite restaurant the lovely host always offers a fried egg accompaniment in absolutely the cutest manner I’ve ever heard:

– ‘fried eggy on de toppy?’

Similarly at my favourite Taiwanese based bubble tea shop I was also regularly greeted with:

– ‘bubbie tea madam?’

Awesomely cute!

 

What not to say to a Hainanese coffee shop owner in Singapore

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Sitting on Hong Kong Street, at the edge of Singapore’s China Town, you’ll find a tiny little Kopitiam (meaning coffee shop in Malay). Selling local breakfasts of soft eggs, kaya toast with kopi or teh.

Walking into the shop we approached the counter. We were greeted by a smiling lady. Her husband stood behind her preparing breakfast orders.

‘2 cappuccinos please’ I said to the lady.

Her husband bangs his knife down onto the counter. Looking over his shoulder he lets out a huge sigh. Glaring in my direction he shouts ‘NO. NO. NO. NO.”

Wtf?!? I’m thinking. He walks towards me.

Approaching the counter, he grabs a small cup from the shelf above our heads. Slamming it down. He points towards a picture hanging on the wall. ‘All we serve is Hainanese coffee. This is what you drink’.

Realising we’d entered a specialist coffee shop and seemingly made the brutal and highly insulting error of asking for a mediocre ‘cappuccino’ we muttered hastened apologies. Handing over 2 dollars we grabbed a seat and awaited our Hainanese coffee.

Hainan is a small island that sits off China’s southern coast. The traditional Hainanese coffee preparation method involves roasting coffee beans in a wok with margarine, sugar and sometimes pineapple skin and maize. They’re then ground down into a fine powder. Evaporated milk, sugar and the brewed coffee are poured into a small china cup. Sometimes topped with a dash more water. A mandatory tiny silver spoon is placed on the side.

We were presented with the most beautiful, smooth, thick and syrupy coffee I’ve tasted.

‘Good. Yes?’ Mr Coffee Man enquires.

‘Glorious’ I answer. He beams at me.

Bin this ‘cappuccino nonsense, stick to the best Hainan coffee’ he says.

I smile telling him that he’s converted me.

Singapore is awash with hundreds of Kopitiams ranging from simple old fashioned places to modern franchised chains. No visit to Singapore is complete without a kopi pit-stop. Keep a special look out for this Hainanese little gem!