Friday, May 31, 2013

Cricket In Mumbai

Whilst the Australia in India tour did not take us to Mumbai, I managed to see plenty of cricket going on in city as I wandered around on my sidetrip visit.

Walking around the Oval Maiden, and then through the Cross Maiden, kids of all ages, sizes and cricket role preferences were out practicing or playing mock or school grade matches.

Perhaps there are kids out here, playing cricket after school, who will turn into cricketing household names, like Tendulkar, Gavaskar or Sharma...

So great to see. And so great to see them in whites!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Kathmandu Cubed

I first spotted this geometric splash of colour on the way to my Kathmandu guesthouse in the Freak Street area, in the pouring rain. It was a little flash of character as I hunched over and followed my directions and the sign to my booked room, along little streets.

Heading back to this little street to check it out when it was not belting down, I loved that the cubes are working their way around the building, fitting over the windows, and appearing to have flowed out of the door around the corner.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Planning Ahead

Since returning from my travels I have been somewhat resistant to just slotting back into real life. The task of settling into Melbourne with a rental property, and to buy back furniture for such a set up, and all that comes with it, just all seems a bit hard. And a bit too permanent for my liking.

But getting my social life into full swing once now that I have picked up some solid locum work, is my number one priority. That task takes some planning, and to help with that I have just ordered and designed my own diary for the next 12 months!

Personal Planner approached me through my blog and offered me a custom made diary, designed by me, through their website – yes, I get my beautiful diary in exchange for this post. But my words and thoughts are still my own!

First I had a play on the website to see what it was all about, and it was easy to see what the options were, and what kind of diary I could chose for myself. They look so good! And there are some great options, for whatever you need, in terms of size and diary layout. Once I had the coupon and was into the website, the hardest part of it all was choosing what look I wanted for my diary for the next 12 months! I got to select the start date for my personalised diary, and the wording and spacing for the front cover. Then, I could pick the layout of the pages inside, which meant I will have a week to an opened page, which is definitely my preference.

There are plenty of designs to choose from on the website to have for your front cover of your diary – but I elected to pick one of my travel photos of my recent trip, which means I will get to carry my Taj memories with me for the next 12 months! A sure fire way to keep my travel memories alive and present!

I loved the options for every aspect of the inside of the diary. I could have chosen to have world maps in the back pages – but I knew that would be way too dangerous, and imagined myself daydreaming over travel past and future in those pages! You could also have pages of addresses in this section, and could even customise them by adding your contacts in manually, so they would be printed in for you! Total time saver! I just chose to have pages of note paper, because I am forever trying to find somewhere to jot things down and be able to keep such notes, for blog ideas, travel recommendations, and important info that comes at me throughout the day and when I am out and about. Another personalised touch is that you can add dates in as you are designing the diary, so they are custom printed into it – like birthdays, and anniversaries, and the like.

At the point of completing my order, I was advised by email that it would be around a 3 week timeframe to receive my custom designed diary. I also received an update a few days ago that my Taj themed diary has been completed, and it should be with through the mail within 5 days. I cannot wait! I will have somewhere pretty to jot down the gigs I have lined up, trips away for the footy, the flights I have booked for a wedding in August, and also to organise the dates of housesitting assignments that I am working on for my homelessness solution! Perfect.

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Slum Called Dharavi

Dharavi is Asia's biggest slum, and fills 1.75 square kilometers of Central Mumbai. It is the one featured in Slumdog Millionaire. It is also home to around 1 million people, and generates a huge amount of industry.

I signed up for a walking tour of the slum, based on the recommendation from the Lonely Planet, about the socially responsible practices of Reality Tours. Reality Tours pours funds from the tours, and their profits, into their NGO within the slum, which runs schools and a community vocational training centre.

One of the main tones of the tour was to dispel the negative perception that Hollywood painted in the movie. Mumbai and India are openly critical of the movie; my guide was quick to mention that Danny Boyle and his crew used a small outside pocket of the Slum for filming, and did not touch on many of the positive aspects of the community.

The first half of our tour was to see some of the industry within the slum. Recycling is the significant and most popular form of making a living within the slum, with plastics sorted, melted down, dried, and then moulded into a usable material for sale to be remade into something else. Mobile phone covers, for example.

We walked through some questionable safety practices, indeed, as well as some pungent and toxic arounds for this very process. We also visited a tin rooftop to see the drying materials, and get a sense of the density of the slum area.

Tanners, embroidery and textile mini-factories, potters, and bread and pappadam makers were also part of our tour, as a sample of the array of skills and work being done within Dharavi.

The other portion of our tour was the residential area. Walking through the tiny paths between people's home (which was indeed like that displayed in the opening sequence of the movie), we learned of the ethnic and religious communities within Dharavi, and how the Hindu and Muslim people work together now within the business of industrial life. 

The living conditions were confronting, and surprising. Families had small spaces for their homes, but managed to make it their own. Indeed, it was explained that many people from Dharavi now work outside of the slum, in the downtown areas of the city in good jobs and earning normal wages, but have chosen to remain living within the community life that the slum has afforded them. The sights of waste areas, sewage runoffs, and the discussion that there is one toilet for around 1500 people in each area, was the reality of Dharavi also.

Our guide was knowledgeable and sensitive to the fact that he was touring tourists through people's lives. No photos were allowed to be taken on the tour, our of respect. We also visited a couple of the projects that Reality Tours have on the go, which reinforced the work they are doing and the difference they are making to the generations through education and training opportunities.

We were a bunch of Foreigners walking through the slum in a group, but we were a small group, and our guide interacted with the people we encountered along the way, or about whom he was referring to when pointing out a task within the industry steps, for example, and the locals did not seem hostile towards our presence. They often greeted us, and seemed to have a bond with our guide.

This tour had such a powerful impact, and was something that stayed with me long after I left Mumbai, and is still something I think about today. A special glimpse into the lives of the people, and the ways of a living slum.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Project 52: Monday Afternoon

This Monday Afternoon was the week of my Live Below The Line challenge. Living on such a minimal budget, and thus lack of variety of food, I found myself holding out to have lunch at work as long as I could - even on that first day! The later the lunch, the faster the afternoon goes, right!

This is Pumpkin Soup with Damper, and water. Pretty uninspiring! And such a small portion!

I managed to raise $805 towards charities working towards eradicating extreme poverty, although the donation page remains open until the 31st of May. Pretty impressive with the generosity and support from my friends and family through the week of the challenge.

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Walking In Mumbai

Once I had finally found my guesthouse, safely, I grabbed a taxi to start a walking tour of Mumbai, straight out of the Lonely Planet. It seemed to cover the major sights, and let me explore the central area of the city on foot. Always my preference!

I started at the Gateway Of India, on the edge of Mumbai Harbour, before turning around and seeing the Taj Mahal Palace which was the site of the last stand of the 2008 terrorist attacks of the city.

From here, I arranged my tour for the next day, before returning to the street and walked to the Regal Circle for a view of the stunning buildings all around me at that point.

A little further up on MG Road is the stunning Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly Prince of Wales Museum of Western India. which is the main museum in Mumbai. Whilst I did not go it, I popped inside the gates to check out the well-groomed grounds and the spectacular building - mixing architectural design from Islamic, Hindu and the British.

I viewed more grand buildings to the left of me as I walked up MG Road, before reaching the Flora Fountain, and following the Walking Tour suggestion to duck down to Horniman Circle. This took me past St Thomas' Cathedral, and at the end of walking through the Circle was the Town Hall. The Circle is a park, surrounded by rounded, horseshoe-shaped buildings, which reminded me so much of parts of London.

Back past Flora Fountain, I got to the Oval Maiden, and took in the sight of the busy, grassy expanse. On the edge of the Maiden I could see the Rajabai Clock Tower, next to the ornate University of Mumbai buildings.

Wandering North from the Oval Maiden, I walked through the Cross Maiden and the Azad Maiden, to get to the magnificent Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. This Gothic building is the Victoria Terminus, being the central point of the railway network.

From across the busy road, to up close, and even inside, this mix of Victorian, Hindu and Islamic architecture features domes, turrets, stained-glass windows, and spires, and is stunning!

The published walking tours in the guidebook most of us carry when we travel was perfect to allow me to see the main sights in Mumbai in a reasonable amount of time, and an ideal length on foot. It meant I got to see the bustle of everyday life in the city, the food stalls and the kids playing in the Maiden, and see what I wanted to see.

The next day, to complete my tour of the sights, I had my taxi driver take me from my morning excursion to see Haji Ali's Mosque, before heading to the airport. This temple sits at the end of a walkway jutting out into the Arabian Sea, and requires pilgrims to navigate the path which is washed with the lapping water from both edges.

From here, I could also see across the water the more modern cityscape of Mumbai, although no buildings there really stood out as distinct or that "made" the skyline. It was the older buildings around town that made Mumbai for me. I had always wanted to visit the city once called Bombay, but actually had no idea about the presence of these great buildings.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Oh Mercy's Last Shows

The announcement that one of your favourite local bands is playing a couple of "last shows" means you grab tickets immediately, right? And then the promise of different special guests each night makes you decide to go to both, yes? Well, it did for Nicole and I! Last week we saw back-to-back Oh Mercy shows, before half of them head off to explore music in the other hemisphere for awhile.

First on the bill was Slow Dancer, Simon from Oh Mercy's solo outfit. A great sound, with an enchanting voice and awesome guitar work. Lead me to buy his EP on the second night, and am loving the tracks.

Next up was Alexander Gow, doing a solo set of a list of songs the band don't really do live anymore. A chill and intimate set, Alex was chatty and charming. He treated us with my favourite Oh Mercy song, the rarely played Salvation Jane, after opening with Hold Out Your Hand, before the first of the guests for the evenings joined him on stage.

Helen Croome, otherwise known as Gossling, sang their new French La Minute de Silence with him, which is a pretty impressive feat!

Mercy Valley was in there, before Alex did a song by The Panics, and then Jae Laffer took the stage to give us his version of Labour Of Love on the second night.

After a wardrobe change for Alex, he returned to the stage with Rohan on drums to open the Oh Mercy set with Europa, before Eliza and Simon joined them for the great Lay Everything On Me.

Loads of Deep Heat tracks featured, with Still Making Me Pay, and My Man being haunting stand outs. Then Kieran Ryan took the stage, mid-set, to give us his version of Doldrums, before the band returned for Stay Please Stay and Drums. Both nights finished with Alex talking about these shows being a celebration rather than a sad farewell, although the final song told of travel, longing escape and journeying, in The Waterboys' Fisherman's Blues.

Who knows when we will see these songs, and this band together, live again. It was indeed a celebration of their work since their humble beginnings...and who knows where the next chapter will lead them. Have fun, lads! It's bound to be amazing!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Birds Of Chiang Mai

These birds, with all sorts of character, were spotted down a laneway when I was wandering around Chiang Mai. A piece of vibrance among the guesthouses, the offices and houses, the traffic, and the cafes. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Brave Women, Genetics And Genocide, and A Voice: HRAFF '13

The Human Rights Arts and Film Festival has been in Melbourne for the last week and a bit, and I managed to see two short films, two full length stories, and wander through the amazing photography exhibit that accompanying the Fest. The Festival soon tours the country, so these are the ones I saw, loved and was moved by:

Taxi Sister
The story of a female taxi driver in Dakar, Senegal. There are 15,000 taxis, and just 4 taxi sisters among them. The short follows one around over a couple of days, picking up customers, waiting for fares, chatting with other drivers, and just living every day, making her living.

She finds herself having the justify her place in her chosen role to her male colleagues, and explaining that she is alone, having to bring in the money for her family. She no longer had a husband, she explains to the inquiries about why she is not staying home taking care of a man, and that she should be able to work in whatever role she wanted. She's sassy and strong willed, and such an interesting character, showing the world that gender is not a barrier to doing something you want to do.

Red Wedding
250,000 women were forced into marriages during the Cambodian Khmer Rouge period. The political spin was that this was to increase the population, and the new desired workers who were left from the genocide phase were the basis of this new population. This short was one woman's story, of the rape and trauma of her experience, and the lack of understanding about what went on and why.

Incredibly brave, we follow as she shows us the rice paddy where she now works, in the village she lives in, which was once used as a killing field. She tells us the bits of her story she confidently knows, and then confronts members of her village who were part of the arranged marriages and the ruling party at the time, to get a better understanding of it all.

She finds a way to discuss what happened to her with her family, and starts a formal complaint process, in a quest to find some sort of closure, and to help other woman like her. I wonder how she will remain safe as her story is being told to the world through this short film, as she confronts her village leaders, and as she submits her request for a formal investigation. So brave.

Sun Kissed
The story of a Navajo family with two children with the very rare genetic condition called XP. Characterised by skin that burns very, very easily in sunlight, often before diagnosis, and then by the rapid and pervasive neurological degeneration. At the point of the movie, their son had recently passed away, and their daughter was profoundly disabled, requiring peg feeding, and with very limited independent movement.

Initially they thought that they were the only ones experiencing this trial, and the medicine man had told them that their children were like this because when he was young he tortured ants. They had also been told that having children with someone from the same clan would result in children with medical issues, such as their children. But soon, she found other families in the Reservation with children with the same condition, and they started piecing some information together. None of the families she found were parents of the same clan. Some of them, too, had been told that their acts of harming animals when they were kids were the reason for their children having this condition. The impact of religion and cultural beliefs was strong, and the stories carried.

XP is a condition with an incidence of 1 in a million; but here in this region, it was presenting in 1 in 30,000. A significant biological situation.

They manage to speak with a Geneticist and a Historian, and start to hear a connection between this elevated prevalence of this rare genetic disorder to the Long Walk. Essentially, in the late 1800s US military rounded up the Native Americans and kept them within a small geographical area, and initially confining them to a concentration camp of sorts. From here, their population diminished due to the conditions to 5000 people, and it is thought that this mixed clans, and in turn, through the conditions and deaths and pool of Native Americans in one place, confined the gene pool.

This clustering of the Native American clans has meant that the recessive genes are meeting in a match more often, and manifesting in such a rare disorder in this generation of children. Fascinating that it has taken this long to present itself, frightening that there is a sudden surge of incidences of this condition.

Their quest to seek information about how the Long Walk may have impacted took them some time, as no one in their community wanted to discuss it. The past, and bad things such as illnesses, are not discussed in Navajo culture, it was explained. He lamented that this, in turn, meant that so much of their own culture was being lost to them. They no longer spoke some of the languages, and now they were having trouble accessing their history.

Apart from the incredible grief felt for this little family and their loss, the film leaves you with the contemplation of the genetic impact of such atrocities as forced migration on populations, communities, and the future generations - the Long Walk, the rounding up of Indigenous children in Australia, Nazi Germany, the Khmer Rouge genocide....

A photography exhibit on display in the Yarra Gallery off Fed Square - here is a room of images selected from the collection shot by the 135 journalists who were killed or went missing during the Indochina War in South East Asia. These prints were taken by Cambodian Nationals and Foreign Press photographers in the battles and weeks before the KR took full command. Some powerful images captured - moment of history - all quashed by the ruling dictatorship/

Words Of Witness
We follow the work and passion of 22 year old budding journalist, Heba Afify, during the Egyptian uprising in Cario in January of 2011. She battles her Mum for permission to be out and interviewing people protesting, and teaches her family about the political situation of the overthrow of Mubarak, whilst she writes and publishes stories and updates for an English news site, and her Twitter and Facebook accounts.

As a young women she faces many barriers, including the perceptions from her own family, about what she should and should not be exposed to, all the while, displaying her passion and excitement for a new political era in her own country.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Solo Female Travel In India

Travel in India, on my own, and as a women, was one of the toughest, most challenging, and shock-inducing experiences I have had as a traveller.  I described it to a friend over drinks as sometimes scary, and she reckons I have never referred to anywhere as that before. The chaos, the frustrations of things, and the smells and grit were full on – but that was nothing compared to the treatment I felt simply because I am a woman.

Being a pretty independent traveller, this trip was one of the first times I seriously counted down til I was back with the group. I went to Kolkata on my own, recharged with the group in Chennai, and then ventured out on my own again for a couple of days in Mumbai.

When I was travelling with Dave and Fi, or any of the other blokes in the Flagger group, both Fi and I were completely invisible and seemed to have no voice in the interactions – Dave needed to negotiate, make decisions and give direction for all of us. No driver or vendor even gave us a glance for such things. Because we were women.

This is something that you hear about, and read about, but nothing really, fully prepares you for the experience of it.

Of course, when I was by myself, and clearly the person to pay, the men had to deal with my requests and bargaining. With my directions, and questions. Male taxi drivers, or food wallahs would then serve me, but would show their reluctance at having to deal with a woman.

They certainly did not change tack like this for an Indian woman, incidents of such treatment we witnessed all the time. I remember being at a food stall at the cricket behind an Indian girl in a sari, trying to order her lunch. The vendor served everyone around her, each new man that would approach the stall, and then looked past her to take my order. I had her ask for her lunch, before I asked for mine, otherwise she was completely invisible to them.

One of the other elements of travel in India as a woman, a white woman, was the staring. We were constantly stared at by the men around us, walking past us. Watched and photographed at the cricket. Asked by men and families to pose in photos with them. Pretty unnerving at times, creepy at others. I have never had my boobs stared at so openly before! Keeping our sunglasses on as we left a cricket game, or around some of the touristy sights, helped me feel like I could ignore the stares, and that helped me stop worry about them.

I would hate to think what they do with the photos. Although they were never that excited about me taking a copy of the same photo on my camera. The first photo on this post was taken by the woman's husband, who was none too pleased at the request to take one for me. She was lovely, though!

The worry about safety when I was on my own was another major feature of this trip. Moreso than most other places I have been to (although up there with Jo'burg and Kingston for it's edginess).

My pre-paid taxi from the airport to my booked hotel in Mumbai got very lost, and the more confused he got about where he needed to go, the more angry and aggressive he became. At me. He stopped a couple of times to ask directions from other drivers and people on the street, so rudely, then to demand more money from me for the trip. He stopped and demanded I get out at one point, because he didn't know where to go. But I certainly didn't know where I was at that point, and he seemed to have been getting helpful directions which indicated we were not far away from where I needed to be, so I stayed firm. He then picked someone up off the side of the road, and I felt sick...stories running through my head about the possibilities of this turn of events....but thankfully, it was a guy who worked for my hotel, and he helped get me to the right place.

A man urinated in front of me in the street in Kolkata, just took it out right there, and then seemed to be following me along the street for awhile. In broad daylight. I just kept walking, trying to stay calm, and not look lost, and tried then to make eye contact with other people who were passing by the quiet street. All fine in the end, but it did not feel right there for a bit!

Late at night in Mumbai, there was some knocking on my hotel door. I ignored it at first, but as it persisted and there was a request to open the door, things started to feel wrong. I held firm that I would not open the door, however the voice on the other side started saying he was the police. Soon there were more and more voices outside my door, demanding that I needed to open the door, for checks. They could not answer me about what the checks were for, nor would they comply to my request that the person stating he was the police slide his ID under the door to prove it. I assume because I was a woman. I am sure he would have for a male voice on inside of the door. Eventually, against every ounce of good judgement, I opened the door - to find every male who worked at the hotel out there around my door, and a man in uniform. He was checking who was staying at the hotel. He asked me a ton of questions, clearly prying about why a girl would be here on her own. Once I talked about being in India for the cricket, and the main staff explained this to the officer, things soon abated, and he moved on.

I loved and hated India, all at the same time. It has such poles of experiences. But these experiences, simply because of my gender, was definitely one of the most pervasively negative feelings about my 5 weeks there. It was confronting, and shocking, and so sad to have all those notions of the place confirmed, and then exceeded. India was named the fourth-worst place in the world to be a woman, and since the Dehli Gang Rape, and the public outcry about it, there seems to be a slightly heightened consciousness about women, their safety and standing in India. But this is such a systemic problem, something that will take much work, and much commitment by the country to make meaningful change.

As a traveller, my tips are to stay alert, trust your instincts, try and maintain a smile and a sense of humour, but stand your ground. You will balance the bad moments with the amazing ones. But mostly, as a woman, you have the chance to share such special brief moments with Indian woman you come across, with a smile, a hello, or a glance, a gesture, that feels important. A seed of hope. And of beauty.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Project 52: Monday Lunchtime

For Project 52 Monday Lunchtime, I decided that I would treat myself with lunch out of the office, in preparation for the follow week, where I did the Live Below The Line challenge. I remember thinking when I had purchased it, just in the cafe downstairs from the office, that it was almost worth the whole budget for the following week.

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Summer In Toronto

It’s been a year since I set off on my 3.5 months of living in Canada for their Summer, to complete my MSW placement for uni. As Summer approaches in Toronto now, and the word ‘patio’ is popping into regular conversation, these are the things I found to do and see in the city that made my Summer over there so much fun!

I loved Doors Open Toronto, as an introduction to so many different and diverse places around the city, with a bit of history, and quirky details about some of the buildings. That’s how I knew about the temperature forecast being broadcast from the spire on the Canada Life Building! It was a great chance to trek around the city to different areas, and familiarise myself with the transport system, and some areas of the city. This year it is on next weekend, May 25 and 26. Definitely check out the Winter Garden Theatre over that weekend, if you get the chance – gorgeous!

Baseball fever was in full force last year, with the Blue Jays doing quite well. Well, at least for the start of the season! It was pretty easy to get tickets, and the stadium has an unusual sliding roof which was worth checking out as part of the atmosphere of a match, and is just at the foot of the CN Tower.

North By North East, or NXNE, is a festival of music, film and interactive forums, and this year will be on June 12th til 16th. Last year, headliners The Flaming Lips were amazing in Yonge Square, and this event over the 5 days let me explore a host of music venues whilst sampling local, Aussie, and international bands. Plus I managed to see a few of the films shown also, which were well worth the festival pass.

The 1000 Tastes of Toronto has changed to a school kids JuniorChef-style event for this year (June 15 and 16) called Future Tastes Of Toronto: At The Kids Table, where you can wonder around the Distillery District and sample dishes for $5, made by a top chef and a little apprentice. It is still part of the Luminato Festival – which will be on June 14 to 23 - which looks like it will be bigger and better, and restyled, this year.

I was in Montreal for Canada Day holiday last year, but I would recommend trying to get to Ottawa for the music and light festival on the lawn of Parliament Hill for July 1st. Feist was the headliner there last year, so it clearly pulls some great names – and there are plenty of amazing Canadian acts that are possibilities for this gig. (Actually, it sounds like you will be hearing Call Me, Maybe this year!)

I was lucky enough to be invited to cover the Roundhouse Craft Beer Fest last year on my blog, and in 2013 it will be on again on August 10 and 11. This will surely be bigger in it’s sophomore year, so keep your eyes peeled for what they have in store. A great chance to sample some of the smaller breweries from the state of Ontario.

Ohhh, I would so love to pop into Tim Horton’s for an Iced Capp! Yum!

Patios (that’s a beer garden for the rest of the world, or a balcony outside, or even just a strip of the footpath!), will be EVERYWHERE very soon, and there is nothing like a Sunday Session in the sun in TO. And there are so many great options!

There is also the host of outdoor cinema venues that pop up all over the city, including the free one in Yonge Square. Of course, a visit to Toronto Islands, and High Park are ones to be planned for at least once during these Summer months ahead, just gorgeous! Toronto, like Melbourne and London and NYC, always have something going on, something to get involved with, and a new neighbourhood of activities to explore.

Enjoy the Summer over there!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Reviewing The Country Map

visited 44 states (19.5%)
Create your own visited map of The World


In this past twelve months I completed my 3.5 months in Canada, with several trips into the USA. Then I returned home for a little bit to save for the next travel stint. The New Year saw me return to Cambodia, and Thailand, via Malaysia, before visiting Burma, Nepal and India for the first time. 8 countries in 12 months, 4 new ones to me.

When I was travelling with Fi and Dave, and after we had completed our amazing visit to Agra and the Taj Mahal, I checked out their running list of the Wonders of the World they had visited. The Natural, the Ancient, the Man Made, the Industrial, the Modern. Fi is also working through a list of countries with every letter of the alphabet. She is streets ahead on the country count, and hasn’t yet been to Europe! Ahh, there will always be lists!

This is an annual post I have been doing since I was living in London, and I am pretty pleased each year to see a little more red on that map, a few more pages used up in my passport, and to have a host more travel stories to share and remember, and ultimately, a greater understanding of the world.

How many have you managed to experience, to date? Where are your wanderlust plans aiming for next? I think I need to target one of those continents that is lacking some red coverage!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

No Reason To Be Scared, Melbourne

She is crouching at the Little Collins Street end of Union Lane, in the middle of the CBD in Melbourne, off Bourke Street Mall.

I think she needs a hug. And a blanket. And someone to play with. And to get out of this dark alley in the city.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Live Below The Line Challenge Completed

I survived Living Below The Line for 5 days last week! I mean, of course I would, but the main factor is that I didn't cheat, I didn't bend to temptation all around me at my workplace, and I gritted out the caffeine withdrawals.

From my $10, and the menu plan I followed, I managed to have 3 meals a day.

With the knowledge that this restricted food and drink plan was only 5 days, it was less of a challenge than that of those faced with this prospect every day - 1.4 billion people, all around the world, who live below the poverty line.

This experience does help echo the notion of luck of the “world lottery”, which I heard again at the AYAD Youth Forum last month. It’s sheer luck that I am born in Australia, and within the  opportunities that have come my way, and thus I do not need to live like this challenge on an enduring basis. I can eat what I like, spend what I have in my bank account, and I also have the freedom to travel where I want, get the education I seek, read what I want, wear what I want...

Once I was through the hunger experience and the caffeine withdrawal headache pains of the first 2 days of the Live Below The Line week, the lack of variety was my main challenge.  I was so bored with the prospect of the same combination of ingredients. I longed for the usual variety my usual life affords me. And I would never eat food with that much butter with such frequency!

When I was cooking those meals, I was also being very careful of waste. I was so worried that I would run out of food for my leftover meal on Friday night. It reminded me, as I trimmed the skin from the pumpkin, of helping in the kitchen in Cambodia, and having my friend Nina tell me off for discarding what I would usually discard from a capsicum - the ends. She reminded me, back then, that not everyone can be so frivolous.

The lack of energy was another big insight from the week. If this figure from the World Bank is correct about the AUS$2 per day, the women I saw working in the fields on my trek in Kalaw, and the work teams of women laying the road in Bagan, doing such back-breaking labour, sustain their activities of daily living on just this. I just had to sit at a desk all day, in my current job. That blows my mind!

I have raised $755 from my week Below The Line, which will go towards the fight to end extreme poverty around the world. Thank you to all who have supported me and the cause, and the fundraising page is open until the 31st of May for all those still wanting to.

(Image credit - Halogen)

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Charm Of Pondicherry

Even since being swept away with imagery when reading Life Of Pi, I have wanted to visit Pondicherry in India, where the story begins, and the inspiration for the zoo was found. The test match being scheduled for Chennai meant that a roadtrip was possible on our last day in the area, and after finding Mamallapuram and Auroville on the way down, Julie and I made it to the oceanside French Colonial town.

After a much needed lunch facing out over the sea at Le Cafe - and the treat of a Western French inspired meal as a break from Indian food - we checked out the Ghandi Statue, before having our driver take us to the Botanical Gardens.

Here is where Yann Martel's story started. This overgrown garden is meant to be where the idea of the zoo came from...and I almost expected Richard Parker to slink out of some of the jungle areas!

You can even see the little railway tracks that were mentioned in the book.

We then plotted out a wander through the French Quarter of Pondicherry, to take in the pretty buildings. The quaint sights of women in saris against the colourful background of the buildings, and the cobbled streets.

Some rundown buildings, some beautifully restored.

We started on the edge of Bharathi Park and walked past the Pondicherry Museum. North of Nehru Street we interacted with a group of women who were all coming out of the ashram, before we came back towards Government Square, and then down and Romain Rollard and Suffren Streets for more gorgeous building viewing.

As part of our discovery of this little town on foot, we happened upon the Sri Manakulu Vinayagar Hindu temple with an elephant out the front. For some rupees, the elephant dedicated to Ganesh would pat the head of the giver, which had us entertained for some time.

We were both so buoyed by our trip down to see Pondicherry, and this was one of my favourite days in India.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day Classic 2013

A little group of us joined thousands of other Ballaratians this morning, and walked or ran the lake as part of the Mother's Day Classic.

My 4th year of doing this event, which is in it's 5th year in Ballarat, Katie and Kym signed up to run the 12kms event, with Renee and her Mum, and Michelle and I doing the walk - just the one lap of 6kms!

With the words resonating to this crowd that 40 women every day in Australia receive the diagnosis of breast cancer, the importance of what the fundraising event all hit home. There was a minute silence completed, to remember those we know and have lost to this unforgiving disease, before it was time to hit the track.

Another sea of pink circled the lake for the next hour, as runners and walked in different pink dress, made their way around, battling the wind off the water at many turns.

At the Olympic Rings, a school band played grunge tunes to the passing participants, and a more classical school outfit played tunes out the front of one of the rowing sheds at the halfway point.

Enjoying out Vitamin D fix when the sun broke through, and having a good chat all the way around, this was such a great morning, and an awesome and important community event to be part of.

We finished our lap, and found our impressive runners to be only a handful of minutes behind us in their completion of the two laps.

Another great event put together by the tireless volunteers in Ballarat.

Happy Mother's Day, to my Mum, and to all the mums I know!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Project 52: Monday Morning

A few Mondays ago, this was my view in the morning, as I waiting for the train to take me to work. I have been back at work for 5 full weeks now, and at the time of this photo I was staying with Jen and getting to train to the office.

I have been lucky enough to slot back into some locum work since my return from travels. This means I am back to earning, but without the commitment of a real job. I get to test out an agency, and get back into the lingo. I am also trying to get used to sitting in an office, at a desk, for 8 hours every day! Ugh!

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Auroville – Home of Human Unity

Hearing about an ashram temple and community with a big gold dome, and unusual creed, on the way to Pondicherry as a recommended stop from another traveller with our group, piqued our curiosity, and we were keen to try and check it out on our roadtrip. Luckily, we spotted the dome from the road on the way into the Southern Indian seaside town, and managed to get our driver to take us in. Gold, indeed!

Through paddocks of trees, we could see the Dome, but it took some time before we got anywhere near it. Once we found the carpark, and walked the distance to the entrance, we got to see the sections that were open to the public of this "universal township".

The Visitor's Centre outlined the idea of human unity, and the vision of The Mother, who was behind this township.

The Mother's vision is lofty, and universally hopeful. According to the website:
Auroville is recognised as the first and only internationally endorsed ongoing experiment in human unity and transformation of consciousness
along with sustainable living, research, and "needs of mankind". Fascinating!

The Centre also outlines The Mother's life, and her specific vision, about meditation and self-sufficient living, and the notion of many people from all over the world, living as one.

Onsite there is a university, and a residential area, in addition to the Dome and it's gardens, with the ampitheatre.

The Visitor's Centre requires that you watch a video about the community, and the construction of the Dome - which is called the Matrimandir, and is a shrine to The Mother - before you are granted a pass to walk out to the observation point to see the Dome and it's carefully manicured surroundings.

The video shows the intricate details of the Dome, from the gold plates that make up the Dome, the twelve meditation rooms within the Dome, and the positioning of the crystal inside to capture the sunlight, and the lotus pond below.

To be honest, I think we came away bemused, and non-the-wiser about what the community living and devoted to the Dome were all about, but it certainly had us talking about it for the rest of the day!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Live Below The Line: An Update

Today is Day 4 of the Live Below The Line challenge, and I think I am going to make it! One more day of living on $2 per day, $10 for a 5 day week, to simulate the experience of living in extreme poverty.

But of course, it’s difficult to simulate completely – after all, this challenge is just about food and drink. It does not take into account that for the 1.4 billion people for whom this is the reality everyday, and also that this meager amount is what they subsist on for everything, including housing, utilities (if available), and all other expenses. Clearly, living in Australia, and coming from the wealth of opportunities that has got me where I am in life, it’s tough to experience the true experience. But it’s a little window, and a harsh reminder, at least.

The end of Day 1 was the worst, and then Day 2, with a constant caffeine withdrawal headache, and hunger ache. The meals on my meal plan were enough to get through to the next one, just, but not really hearty enough to sustain me through the day. Getting home from work on Monday was pretty ridiculous, as I felt listless and so, so tired. I got over this yesterday, being Day 3, and today has been the best I have felt. The lack of variety in the meals has been the hardest part, and the need for meticulous planning! Although a different breakfast, and the introduction of tomato, this morning, was a huge relief! I crave cheese, and coffee, and sugar, and coffee, and salad, and coffee!

I would rarely plan meals ahead, and I would mix things up through the week, so that I am never bored. Plus, I eat out so much! This week I have had to be aware of what I could eat at each meal, to stay in budget, and resist all snack on offer at impromptu morning teas at the office. I could not eat out before or after the movie I went to see last night (a free movie, at that!). I have also had to factor in cooking time most days! Plan when I could cook the meals, and have spent more time in the kitchen this week than I do for a month or more! This has been a full time occupation, just living! Such an insight!

One more day, and I can return to eating meat and drinking coffee like the privileged person that I am. I am certain that this week’s experience, and the conversations I have had about the challenge, will stay with me for a long time. I will certainly approach the dilemma I always have with beggars a little differently, that’s for sure.

I am so, so pleased that my challenge has also managed to raise such valuable funds towards the worldwide fight against extreme poverty. I have raised $695 to date (fundraising closes on 31st of May, so plenty of time to kick in a few dollars!), which will go toward supporting kids access school, have a meal before school so they can concentrate, and ultimately access a better life. Thank you to all who have supported me, and this important world issue!

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Art Among The Ruins in Ayuttaya

As we were walking back from out nighttime look at the amazing temples in Ayuttaya, I spied some art in a building that was in the middle of being torn down - or rebuilt - and I decided that checking this out in the daylight the next morning was a must first stop of the day.

The vibrant focal points, of the tree, the rose, the hand, and the mouth, made these walls come to life. Wow, the rose is stunning!

These pieces are the ultimate temporary art - who knows if they are even still there? This house could take an age to be finished, or could have been completely knocked down by now. But these artists, or artist, seized the opportunity, and make an otherwise dull sight, interesting!

Monday, May 06, 2013

Carved Temples of Mamallapuram

India is full of surprises! Driving south from Chennai for a day roadtrip, we explored the temples of Mamallapuram. Carving is what these little known structures are famous for, and with virtually no one else there looking at them, we got to be up close to 7th Century masterpieces.

The first such temple was the Shore Temple, which we walked up to from the carpark, as it stands on the shore, funnily enough. On a well manicured parkland, a jut of land on the coast, this temple is thought to be the last one standing of a series along this stretch of land.

The detail in the stonework is impressive - and worn. It's small overall, and supposedly in the shape of the perfect cosmic body. There is a reclining Vishnu, and there are terraces of cow statues around the outside.

Our next visit in this small town was to see the Five Rathas - made from a single piece of rock. This 5 temple complex was impressive, each so different and each dedicated to a Hindu god, and named after a family of four brothers and their common wife.

The shrines within the Five Rathas resemble chariots, with animal mounts of the gods at the entrances - lion, elephant, cow. We managed to take the details of each one...just before a huge group of school children arrived with their teachers!

The rest of Mamallapuram is a host of relief carvings - like the Arjuna's Penance here. Elaborate scenes of Hindu mythology are being played out on this stonework, as well as pictures of South Indian life.

The Trimurti Cave Temple, with it's columns and intricate carvings, was equally impressive - and the Krishna's Butter Ball is just along from both of these.

These temples were certainly not anything I expected to see in India, nor did I even have them on my radar to see. But they were certainly worth the stop, to gaze and wonder at the stories behind them, the skills required to carve them, and the cultural and religious value they hold to the area.
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