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.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I took a hiking backpack today on my weekly shopping trip to Dalston. It seemed like a good idea because I had three bags full of unwanteds to take to the Oxfam store and I wanted to bring a big load of groceries back.

I also took cardboard for recycling. Our building doesn't recycle cardboard or plastic bottles and I usually end up carrying it halfway across London to drop in a bin on the way to work.

After a few false leads I remembered that there was a bin for cardboard on Ridley Road and took it there. As I opened the bin a market stallholder walked past and said 'You won't find anything in there mate. It's just rubbish, only cardboard'.

I hoped he thought I was a freegan scavenging for ideological reasons rather than someone homeless and desparate! That will teach me to go several days without shaving.

After dropping my donation at Oxfam I headed to Sainsbury's. As I went through the door I noticed the security guard perk up and make some hand signals to the staff on the cigarette counter.

In the spice section a few minutes later, I felt that someone was following me. I looked up and a Sainsbury's employee (disguised with a civilian jacket and empty trolley) quickly diverted her gaze towards the tinned tomatoes.

Was it just the backpack or do I look genuinely dodgy? Eitherway, appearing destitute has advantages. After Sainsbury's I went to pick up my bike from the shop where I'd taken it to repair the damage caused by an aborted theft attempt outside the Barbican on Sunday. £3!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A weekend in London

The camera has been replaced so here's a record of last weekend:

Saturday evening on the South Bank...

returning via Waterloo Bridge.

Sunday morning strolling down Ridley Road in Dalston.

and Sunday afternoon admiring open gardens in De Beauvoir Town...

before returning home along the canal...

to admire my own garden again.

Monday, May 26, 2008

I make idlis

Cal brought me an idli maker back from India. It's the best thing thing that's come into my life since I splashed out on fancy bike gloves that saved my hands from dropping off.

And here's an idli maker for Pip. The camera broke in Paris on the weekend (more on that later) so here's a very similar looking one from the internet:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Second attempt

There's one morning a week where I have to wake up 6:30am for an early class. I'd love to be able to sleep a bit longer on other days but my body likes routine and insists on walking at 6:30am every morning.

That came in handy this morning when I woke up, put on shorts and a t-shirt (it's mid-May but I've cast all my clouts - I'm tough) and headed down to Columbia Road to make up for last week's disappointment.

People are so friendly early in the morning! I chatted to dog walkers and cyclists in the park and when I got to the market it was quiet and stallholders were wandering around catching up with each other.

With most of the stalls open but few shoppers about, I got everything I wanted. I then went for a 2km swim before doing a couple of hours of gardening. Can a Sunday morning get any more satisfying?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Flower fight

My garden is at an ugly transition stage. The last flower (below) died off weeks ago but the leaves are taking way too long to wither away and I don't want to pull the bulbs out until they're ready.

Not that I'd have anything to replace them with anyway. Apart from a few very healthy looking lettuce, my seeds (especially the ones I ordered from overseas!) have not been too successful.

I thought I'd cheat with a trip to Columbia Road. I saw stuff I wanted on the stall where a man sells off one thing at a time to the person he likes the look of most. The crowd of anxious gardeners around the stall were eyeing each other suspiciously.

A man next to me asked a stall assistant if he could buy something on the ground in front of him, only to be told 'You can only buy what the boss has in his hand.'. It was starting to feel like a Seinfeld episode, 'No petunias for you!'.

(same stall but not my photo)

When my plants came up, I know he noticed my waving hand first but I was completely ignored! I'm going back this Sunday at opening time. Failing that, I'll be there the week after with someone who can project a good damsel in distress.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Dalston last night

And on Kingsland Road a zorba dance has blocked traffic in both directions. Drivers are advised to seek alternative routes...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Powerhouse of pleasure

I've just got back from Birmingham. If anyone wants to know what it's like, watch the video below and imagine how much better it is 30 years later. I went by train so I wouldn't know about the revolutionary road systems but everything else is just like Telly Savalas says...

Cal texted from a swimming pool in Kolkata and I replied quite proudly that I was off on a bluebell walk. I amost didn't even feel jealous. I am, like so English now.

And it only got better after I ate a bluebell.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


This country is way too complicated. Here are 3 reasons why...

1. One of my students told me that she goes to Birmingham by coach because train is too expensive. I asked how much she pays and it is twice as much as I pay to go by train! I know how to get to Birmingham cheaply because I do it regularly and did a lot of research on the internet. I would have to do more if I wanted to go anywhere else cheaply. This annoys me because the people who can't access information easily are the ones who can least afford to pay extortionate prices!

2. The tax system here drives me mental. Why do I need other other reference numbers in addition to my National Insurance number? Why do I need to pay for the NHS and BBC separately? And why, when I did two jobs, was one administered through a tax office in Bradford and another through Middlesborough? And why didn't these offices communicate with each other? After a stuff up last year, I now have to make regular payments on account, on top of the tax paid directly from my salary.

3. The final reason was what sparked this whole rant off. I took a trip to my local pool and discovered that some lanes are signposted for anti-clockwise swimming and others for clockwise! I have never heard of anti-clockwise swimming lanes. And when I told that to the lady I crashed into (though it was hardly her fault) she goes 'It's always been like that'.

And that is why.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I wasted too much time in school being good. Now that I'm a teacher I've realised that mischevious students are the most interesting.

We went to Kew again for an end of term excursion and I enjoyed staying quiet while my students had a bit of fun with the tour guide:

Now these ones are bananas.

Are you sure my habibi?

Yes, they are. And underneath the bananas you can see that we've put lots of manure. Does anyone know what manure is?

I know Manuel. He work with me.

Now, if you look in this direction you can see that there are Holme Oak trees along both sides of the path.

Homework trees?

No Holme Oak trees. And that tree over there will have beautiful flowers in July if you come back.

(in unison) Inshallah.

And over on that side you can see a cedar from Lebanon.

How did you get it? Did you steal it or did they give it to you?

I loved it. And I loved the plants too.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Back in London

I arrived back in London this morning. Typhoon signal number 3 was hoisted when I left Hong Kong and water was pouring from the sky. I love that type of weather but it made for a bumpy start to the flight. The biggest disturbance occurred as the first round of drinks were being served and the man next to me ended up with a very wet lap.

No such exciting weather when I landed in London. It was gloomy and cold and the trip home from the airport was painful. Sunday morning is probably the worst possible time to arrive in London. The city is covered with evidence of the night before and the drunken perpetrators are still stumbling home.

Walking along the pavement, I had to pick up my rolling suitcase repeatedly to avoid bottles, spilt food, vomit and dog poo. It didn't get any better when I reached home - a bag of rubbish had been emptied in front of the apartment building and a bottle of wine spilt across the floor of the lobby.

I thought I'd seen it all but then I went out shopping and spotted this on the street...

Yum! I was marvelling that I've lasted two and a half years here.

Things started to look up though. I had a cheap and delicious Turkish breakfast in Dalston followed by a walk in the park. A little later I was in the front window of a tea shop with a pot of tea and a slice of gluten free chocolate cake.

As the caffeine started to kick in, I watched people passing by and realised how much I feel at home in this city of huge variety. It may be grotty but it's good to be back.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Another Easter

And another lovely trip to the seaside. There wasn't quite as much adventure, monopoly, wine or Greek tradition as last year, nor was there much pleasant weather.

But there was still bonding with animals...

secret caves...

and sea!

Plus there were some things that didn't happen last Easter. Like a drive by viewing of a prehistoric monument.

And rainforest! The warmth and humidity felt so comforting after the 5 degree temperatures outside. Less than two weeks until Hong Kong!

Monday, March 17, 2008


I asked a class today to prepare a story about a time they had bought furniture or something big for their house. It was in preparation for making a complaint phone call so I encouraged them to think of a purchase that was in some way problematic.

After some work on past tense verbs, the first anecdote went like this:

'I swear to god this is a true story. I used to have two girlfriends. One of them cried to me for new furniture, washing machine, everything for our apartment. So I take her Argos buy everything. Cost me 1000 pounds. Then, next week she kick me out. I ask her why she kick out me and she said is because you got another girlfriend. I said, "Why you didn't kick me out before I buy you everything for flat?". She used me!'

The women in the class laughed and another man started to tell him off. I, meanwhile, was thinking, 'Habitual past and a phrasal verb! Bonus!'.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


More from my balcony. These make me think of my mum, who (full of optimism) planted bulbs in our Sydney garden, hoping that a freak winter might one day prompt them to flower...

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Berber terrorists

I went to ask for an appointment at my hairdresser on Monday. They didn't have anything that day so when I mentioned that I'd come in again later they gave me their card. I don't know why I have an aversion to booking things in advance.

That evening, when I looked at the card, I noticed that the business is called 'Rush Hair Salon' but their email address is rashhairsalon@. Neither of these were particularly encouraging so on my day off yesterday I decided to try out the barber on Broadway Market. Sitting in the seat and looking out the front window, I noticed that it was actually a 'Berber Saloune'. Is that faulty English or another langauge? Anyway, it was a good cut for 8 pounds so I'll probably go back.

Meanwhile, on Mondays my old men's class are doing a unit called 'Homes'. Can you translate this description that one of my students came out with (to everyone's great enjoyment)?:

Mubarak living terrorist flat. It has 4 bedroom and big chicken.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

At last

It's officially spring on my balcony.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Gulshan mein gul khilte hain jab...

Mid-term soon revealed how boring my life is. After returning from Birmingham I did little other than see Jodhaa Akbar (recommended highly to anyone with 4 spare hours - gosh people were good looking in the Mughal era) and book tickets to Hong Kong and Sydney in April.

It's strange to be going again after only 7 months (particularly as I waited 2 years before the last trip) but since I'm restricted to travelling during school holidays, I reason that this is the best time of the year to go in regard to weather and ticket prices.

On Saturday, Mogfa had requested a trip to Victoria Park for squirrel feeding. When she called in sick, I visited the local Turkish restaurant instead for beans on yoghurt and rice stuffed in vine leaves. When she texted in sick again on Sunday, I replied, 'no worries, flowers about to open, can't leave house'.

Almost a week later, they still look the same. Thank goodness for earthquakes!

Monday, February 18, 2008


It's the mid-term holiday and I'm off to Birmingham today. I'm back Wednesday and plans for Paris have failed (I was too late trying to book bus or Eurostar tickets) but Mogfa is on break too and we're planning a Hackney fun day later in the week. I love holidays!

The Mughal era epic, Jodhaa Akbar, released last Friday and it's quite fortunate that I'm on holiday becuase it's 3.5 hours long. I love the music so I'm hoping the film turns out to be okay.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Bike luck

After having a bike stolen a month ago and falling off last week, I've had more bike misfortune. Yesterday I was fined 30 pounds for crossing 3m of deserted footpath between the end of one bike path and the beginning of another. Grrr.

It's not much money but I feel stupid for being honest. When the community police person stopped me, she was talking on a mobile phone and I had to wait half a minute for her to finish the call. I could easily have cycled off or given false details.

I've learnt an important lesson and it's nothing to do with cycling on the footpath (which I don't like doing in any case).

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


If you see anyone in London feeding squirrels, there's a good chance that they're Australian. When I discovered how tame the squirrels in Victoria Park were, I bought a huge bag of raw peanuts (they're called monkeynuts here) and went back the next weekend. There's still half a bag left so let me know if you're keen for a feeding trip

If I tell an English person that I feed squirrels they scoff. Yes, I know that they're vermin but if you grew up only seeing squirrels in story books, grey squirrels (the red ones are native and good) are not that bad. Certainly not on a par with pigeons.

And I do know how to recognise real British wildlife when I see it. While feeding the squirrels I also spotted this, which I recognised as a Blue Tit, quite surprising myself!

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Ever since moving to London, I've looked longingly at the boxes of longans for sale in Chinatown. When I lived in Temple Street I used to buy whole bags to take back to my room and eat in front of the fan while listening to the BBC world service. Until now, I couldn't justify buying a box of fruit flown from Thailand but Chinese New Year is a special occasion. I bought them for our CNY party but there was so much else to eat that we didn't even open the case. Yay!

Speaking of my carbon footprint, I'm suddenly feeling an urge to plan several holidays into the next few months. I think it has something to do with not getting the job. Destinations include Paris, Cornwall and Scotland. On top of that, I'm still toying with the idea of going to HK and Sydney in the spring holiday. And somewhere in the Himalaya over summer. Suddenly a box of longans is not such a huge indulgence.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Happy New Year!

Best wishes to everyone for Chinese New Year.

I'm more than happy to say goodbye to the year of the pig. I came off my bike yesterday morning, spent an evening getting examined and x-rayed and then arrived home to a letter of notification that I didn't get the job I interviewed for last week.

Anyway, nothing's broken and work has been so happy lately that staying around isn't an unnatractive prospect. I've asked for feedback on the job interview and I'm going to use the long tube ride to work to catch up on all the bits of last weekend's newspapers.

So may the year of the rat be a good one. Here's the first sunrise from my balcony.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


After a couple of months without internet, I've lost none of my talent for wasting time in pursuit of the most bizarre pieces of knowledge.

I was listening to Rihanna's 'Don't stop the music' when I noticed how many people had made angry comments about her stealing from Michael Jackson. I wondered where he got the 'ma ma makossa' from in the first place.

Hooray for wikipedia. 'Makossa' actually means 'I dance' in Duala, a language spoken in Cameroon. 'Soul Makossa' is a song by Manu Dibango, whose lawyers obtained out of court compensation after claiming that Michael Jackson had stolen the chorus for for "Wanna be startin' somethin'". It's a very cool song.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Recalled to life

After a couple of dormant months I'm back online at last and my blog, like my little balcony garden, is set to blossom.

I've got lots to say. Later.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy New Year!

I'm still offline and it's seeming like it will be some time before I get a home telephone and internet connection. I'm back at work today so at least I can check email again.

Meanwhile, Christmas was nice and new year celebrations at Cal's were great fun. I'm enjoying my new (2nd hand) bike (the old one was stolen from inside our secure complex - Merry Christmas!) and looking forward to the snow that's supposed to come tomorrow.