Saturday, October 18, 2008


Apologies to anyone who has been visiting this blog in vain. I've become pretty irregular lately and have decided to close down chungkingexpress for a while and make it password protected.

I'm not done with writing though and I'm planning to start up a new blog themed on my stay in a Rajasthani village. My aim is to write once a week and write well.

I'm not quite ready to put a first post up but I'd love any comments on how it looks so far:


Monday, September 22, 2008


On my last trip to Jaipur I picked up a few cooking supplies. My cook, Shankar, can manage with no chopping board and a knife that looks like it's meant for buttering bread but I can't. I bought the best knife I could find. It's so good that it's very likely to raise suspicion about what I'm cutting.

Shankar is hugely impressed with the knife. He has given it a special place apart from other implements and waves it around the kitchen, making thrusting motions and saying that if you plunged it into someone your hand would follow the knife right through their body. Luckily, we get on pretty well.

I also bought eggplant in Jaipur as supplies of anything other than melon in our village are unreliable. With my new toys I set about cooking eggplant with garlic, peanuts and coriander. Shankar had some radishes in the fridge and having found out the leaves were edible I cooked them in oil with ginger like choi sum.

After 2 months of very bland curry, it was great to taste the actual vegetables that I was eating. Eating greens that still had some crunch was bliss. And rice that had a little bit of stickiness. Yum.

Shankar was shocked by the absence of masala and tumeric but he pronounced the meal quite edible. I'm still trying to convince him to go slow on the garam masala and chilli powder and flavour food with onions, garlic and ginger instead. Hopefully he'll be inspired to plunge the knife into a few new things.

Friday, September 05, 2008

I take the bus

Since I'm working Saturdays, I get to take a 5 day holiday in lieu each month. I just took my first one to Jaipur and Delhi.

Much to my colleagues' displeasure, I insisted on giving up the car I'm supposed to be provided with and travelling by bus. Apart from environmental objections, I was in desparate need of a little independence.

I felt quite proud of myself, heading off without a guidebook and a few pages printed off googlemaps. The pride died, however, when I got on the bus to Jaipur, got off again to buy a magazine and then returned to find the bus had driven off with my luggage inside.

In a panic I asked people where it was and they advised to chase it by auto and try and join at a secondary stop at the edge of the city. I jumped into the nearest auto and the driver sped off. He was a champion, yelling at people to try and get to the front of the queue at each red light.

We arrived at the stop and got sent round a corner by a ticket seller. I shoved 100 rupees into the auto driver's hand and we both started running. As we rounded the corner I could see my bus just starting to drive off.

I caught up and ran along banging the side of the bus. The door opened and I jumped in, almost collapsing in relief at the sight of my bag full of Darjeeling tea, battery chargers, Diesel jeans and other preciouses. Apart from the fear of losing those, I'd worried I'd never be allowed to take a bus again!

And the trip back from Delhi was no less exciting. I groaned inwardly as a very talkative Delhi police officer sat down next to me. Once we'd got friendly and I'd heard all about his children and views on the death penalty (totally against), he lowered his voice and started to tell me (over a bag of Kurkure chips) about encounter killings he'd made.

Possibly another thing I'd be better off not telling colleagues. Who'd drive and miss this kind of excitement?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fun and games

If anyone wonders what life was like before health and safety regulations they need come no further than Jaswantgarh (which is quite far enough from anywhere, believe me).

Our school's Independence Day function threatened to be incredibly boring. I sat through a rant from the local Hindu equivalent of Pauline Hanson, listening wistfully to Bollywood numbers blaring from the school 2 streets across.

Just when the ceremony couldn't get any worse, I was shoved unexpectedly onto stage to counter some of the bile about cow eaters who deny the bridge to Lanka and tell their children to eat quickly incase Indians come to steal their food.

Luckily, the organisers had another trick up their sleeves. I smelt petrol and then gasped when I realised what was happening. The kids had been practising all week but I'd never imagined the thing was to be set alight!

All the boredom was forgotten and our ceremony wrapped up quick enough for me to go check out the other school's performance, getting garlanded and stuck in the VIP section in the process.

Events took a similarly positive turn at a festival last night when I thought I was getting myself in for a night of chanting and ended up (in the VIP box again) witnessing 2 hours of human pyramid-pot smashing madness.

At midnight, the festival culminated with half the village's population stuffed into a temple, popping balloons, yelling, ringing bells and getting a handful of sweets to go home with. And I thought midnight mass was fun!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Now reporting from India: Oh my gourd

Due to local laws, I have now been pure veg for over three weeks. Not only have I not had meat, eggs or alcohol, I pretty much haven't eaten anything that doesn't come from this stall or an identical one opposite. My cook does his best but there's only so much taste you can get out of a bitter melon and a few spices.

I've now reached a point where I look at any animal suspiciously, from camels to beetles. The other day I put a piece of potato into my mouth and somehow the texture led me to mistake it for egg. My heart started to beat fast but, alas, as I bit in I realised it was just a trick of my meat starved mind.

I've noticed that the gypsies on the outskirts of town keep chickens and I'm making a good job of ingratiating myself into the local Muslim community. There are plenty of goats around for milk and with Eid coming up I can't imagine they're going to sacrifice a bitter melon. And I'm planning my long weekend trip. Anywhere with meat.