Saturday, 9 July 2011

A snapshot of Vietnam

“We could run down the gangway shouting Ho! Ho! Ho Chi Minh!” suggested one of my shipmates jokingly, as we prepared to dock. “ We’re in Nha Trang, on the south coast of Vietnam, and quite far away from Ho Chi Minh city”, I reminded him, but he had already vanished in the excitement of disembarking from the ship after our 2 week long cruise in the South China Sea from Singapore to Vietnam. Much as I had enjoyed every bit of the cruise, I was relieved to set foot on ground again, as I left the ship to spend a couple of days in the scenic coastal town of Nha Trang. The local Oceanography Institute had organised a welcome party for the entire crew followed by a short tour of the institute and its in-house aquarium. I had my first taste of the delicious local food which seemed to set me up for a life-long love of Vietnamese food. Our hosts had organised music and dance for later in the evening; we couldn’t have had a warmer and more heart-felt welcome!

The following day we hired a boat and went off on a snorkelling trip in the coastal waters of the South China Sea. The boat was skippered by an old man. The old man met tourists from various countries through his boat business and he maintained a notebook of his encounters and conversations with foreigners. He showed me a page in his book of a popular Indian song written in Hindi by an Indian person who had been on his boat. He even hummed the tune to me, which he remembered very clearly. I was amazed and inspired by him. From his little wooden boat in Nha Trang, he was able to stay connected with the rest of the world. His notebook contained snapshots of multiculturalism from around the world. It was my first attempt at snorkelling, and although I was somewhat overwhelmed to be out in the open ocean with a pair of flippers and a face mask with a pipe to work as a breathing apparatus, the scene of the colourful corals underwater made every minute of it worthwhile. On returning to the boat, a delicious Vietnamese lunch awaited us, prepared by the skipper and his assistant, while we were out in the water.

Later that evening upon returning ashore having bid our friendly boatman a warm farewell, I took a walk along the sandy beach lined with palm trees. A local musician strummed a guitar playing local tunes and accepting whatever change people dropped in his hat. Local kids played in the sand, with no seeming hurry to go home. The next morning we made a trip to the market in paddle rickshaws. The driver of my rickshaw would not accept a tip, and he insisted on waiting for me until I finished shopping at the market so that he could take me back to the hotel. Most of us bought the traditional Vietnamese straw hats that are typically worn by workers in the rice fields. One of my colleagues couldn’t stop taking pictures of the market place. He said it felt so warm and homely that he had to take back as many reminders of it as he could. We treated ourselves to traditional Vietnamese coffee and spring rolls at a street-side cafĂ©. I bought portable statues of the laughing, travelling and the meditating Buddha, local paintings and picture postcards depicting life in Vietnam, all as souvenirs and gifts. At another street-side shop, I bought a t-shirt embroidered with a traditional scene of a rice field. Happy with my purchase, I walked away. A few minutes later, I saw the owner of the shop hurrying towards me with a t-shirt. I thought she wanted to sell more of them to me, so I politely refused in English and started walking away. She followed me, insisting on something in Vietnamese, all the while holding out a t-shirt to me. I ignored her for a few minutes, and then I tried to explain again that I did not want another t-shirt. She pointed at the t-shirt that I had bought from her which was in my shopping bad and said the word ‘damaged’. I pulled out the t-shirt from my bag, which she hastily grabbed from me, unfolded it and pointed out to me a large tear in the cloth! She had realised that she had sold me a damaged product, so she had followed after me to exchange it for another t-shirt! I was touched by her honestly, and I gladly exchanged the t-shirt with her. She smiled in relief and went away.

We went to a restaurant for our evening meal. I ordered two servings of spring rolls. The waitress laughingly informed me that two servings would be too much for me. She recommended one serving to which I agreed, although I was somewhat confused and embarrassed that I was being told to eat less. When the food arrived, I realised why her advice made sense. One serving consisted of a medium sized plate full of about 10 small-sized spring rolls! I couldn’t possibly have managed to eat more than a plateful.  My short stay in Nha Trang was over. As I waited in the airport lounge for my flight, I wondered when I would be back again. Although 2 days seemed like such a short time, almost like a snap-shot, after 12 years my memories and feelings of the place are still alive and fresh.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Self appraisal

"It's all very weird", the man behind the serving counter said, as he poured hot water on to the tea bag in my cup, " Earl Grey with milk!  Thai noodles with a fork?".  Yes, it's pretty weird being me, I thought, as I sipped the fragrant tea and reflected on things.  I was back to the basics.  I had felt to be the victim of recent events and had narrated my side of the story to a colleague, whose surprising and somewhat shocking reaction had been, "Well, it's natural for 'so and so' to have been the way they were with you."  I was hurt and infuriated that the colleague had justified the offending party's behaviour and called it natural.  After fuming over it for a day and gradually allowing myself to mull over it, the realisation came to me that I was all in all quite an intolerant and self-righteous person when it came to morals and principles.  In my world, there seemed to be no room for anyone to err or be less than perfect in their behaviour and lifestyle!  It occurred to me that I may have been leading a militantly hostile life all this while, unknown to me, yet obvious and uncomfortable for others around me, to say the least.

It then led to some self-questioning:
- Why did it matter so much to me to continue being righteous about what had happened?  Wasn't the loss and the lesson learned enough?
- What did it matter anymore as to who was right and who was wrong?  The damage had already been done.

In the end, only kindness matters.  Kindness to others and to one's self.  A fresh start is needed.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Living On The Edge

An overview of one's life pattern reveals that its nature is that of being on the edge of things. Such a lifestyle is one of constant movement which is regarded as a positive thing.

Living on the edge
It seems to me that some people including myself strive to live on the edge. It’s not that we find ourselves in edgy situations accidentally and often, but it’s as if there can be no rest until we are on the edge of anything, be it a physical location, a financial situation, a travel plan, or a mental attitude for that matter.

I find myself living at the water’s edge most of the time, whichever continent or hemisphere I find myself in.  I even find myself visiting places that are on the water’s edge.  Financially, I tend to just about make it until the next pay cheque arrives, as I’m always working on contracts in the academic world of teaching and research.  I travel a lot through my work, and through looking for work, which is how I end up being at the water's edge (mostly) in various places.  Interestingly enough, I always find myself either on the first flight or train or bus of the day or the last one on the schedule.  As for my attitude, I find myself to be a comfortably restless being, always planning my next move in life, making sure I never get too comfortable to reach a state of stagnation.

Sometimes I tend to observe myself, and I wonder if one edgy situation aids the formation of another, thus leading to a chain of such events that shape my life.  My profession is one of marine science, so living at and visiting locations by the water’s edge links up with it, although I’m not sure which happened first, the location or the profession. My financial self-sufficiency largely reliant on the academic contracts keeps me moving places. Again, budget travel routes to get to these places are usually available for trips that start at unsocial hours such as at the edge of dawn or midnight. All in all, I would say that existence on the edge is a dynamic one, where there is more action than inaction, and the movement is generally perceived as being in the forward direction.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

A random conversation, or one that may have implications for the sericulture industry

He mostly spoke in Tamil with a few smattering of English, as I spoke in English with a lot of gesticulations and facial expressions to make myself understood. He said he was a silk weaver. I said I was in favour of Ahimsa Silk (=silk without violence), where the silk-worm is removed without any harm done to it, then the silk is extracted from the cocoon. He laughed and said that it made sense that I should talk so as I was from Gujarat, the land of Gandhi. He said something along the lines of ," was okay for him to practice 'ahimsa' for the purpose intended back then.." I said that we should refrain from killing anything in the spirit of universal brotherhood. He finally seemed to agree, I think.

Related link on Ahimsa Silk:

Saturday, 15 January 2011

On Exits

If you've been in a circle for a while and wanting out, the exit is in the tangent. It's okay to hop on to the next circular existence, if linearity cannot be maintained. You'll know how to get out of it from your previous tangential experience.

In A Parallel Universe

In a parallel universe, an alternative reality must exist. But does the opposite of what's going on transpire, I wonder. And do we sometimes, in moments of inspiration and courage, leap into such a parallel universe?! Is this what is called a 'life-changing moment'?