Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Burnout Diaries: Pondering Funemployment

" have treasures hidden within you - extraordinary treasures . And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small."  

Elizabeth Gilbert,  Big Magic

Sometimes it takes a few moments with a friend to make you realise that what is going on is not who you are, what you want or where you want to be.

Yesterday, an old colleague came to visit me at work. Cesar and I worked together a few years ago.

He's a divine man. When he's around I find myself sometimes talking like Margarita Pracatan.

He came up behind me and put his hands on my shoulders. Inappropriate work touching? No.  As he's of South American origin, this is more than acceptable. He's also married to an equally wonderful man, so there is nothing inappropriate here. He's Cesar. He's awesome.

Feeling his touch on my shoulders, I jumped up out of my chair and we hugged. Big hug, none of this air kissing, awkward hugging. A heartfelt hug, kiss on the cheek. In the office. Surrounded by workmates.


Audible giggling and small talk followed. Cesar makes me smile. And giggle. And he always makes me feel good.

And then it hit me.

I haven't laughed in the office for a very, very long time. Like well over six months. Not since the last job when my old work husband still worked there and I was tormented by the worst dad jokes ad infinitum.

I haven't laughed for six months - at work that is.

The last time I really felt like myself was on Catherine Deveny's writer's retreat down the Great Ocean Road. It was a transformational weekend - nurturing, mad, fun and creativity was promoted, encouraged and worshipped. As was laughter. And stepping out of your comfort zone. And nurturing along with being nurtured.

That was in June.


It's been a really tough year at work. Two difficult projects. Two work environments which have left me mentally and spiritually drained, even though the work itself wasn't overly onerous. A year of treading water and working out how to cope with everything from 10-12 hour days, to having nothing to do, to having your confidence and credibility questioned, to watching your workmates drown under similar conditions. In the words of another friend, who I ran into the other day - I've had shit year.

And I'm at a low ebb.I know that sometimes, you have to get to your lowest before you can bounce back up. I'm not spiraling into depression - but I'm not too far off.

To date, I've been telling myself that things are fine. However, it was in India that I started to feel like myself again.It took a few days. It was on a boat on the Ganges on the last morning of the Varanasi tour when my smart mouth came out. Like when was the last time I found myself let my ink-black humour and deranged giggle come out?


It's dawned on me that I need to find myself again. This is going to take time and a lot of self-care.

So, as my contract at work ended on Friday, I'm giving myself an extended break. It's my gift to myself.

For the next six weeks at least, no work - well no work where I'm having to go into an office and sell my skills for money in an office, with politics and deadlines and all the other great things my regular job involves. I'll look for work - half an hour a day during the week - but that's it. If interviews come, they come. If I get a job, I can start on or after 13 January. Besides, it's December tomorrow  - things start to ramp down now on the work front. A job will come. There are a few irons in the fire. The job will eventuate in the new year. Of this, I'm confident.

In the mean time, I'm taking a sabbatical. Or having a spell of fun-employment - as coined by an old colleague. I'm between contracts. I'm thankful that I have the financial resources to do this without going into hock.

I'm free to find me again.

I'll do the things that feed my soul. Do the things that make me happy. Make no compromises being active and healthy and creative - the do the things that make me feel good.

Thankfully, with some careful financial management, I can afford to do this. I won't be spending my money on crap. It's not subsistence living, but I won't be splashing out on things I don't need. Just the basics - rent, food, bills, gym membership, the odd movie. A trip to Brisbane to see a beloved friend will happen, the flight has been paid for. The book group has its book choosing meeting.

Being the over achiever I am, I've set myself some goals:

Every day I'd like to complete:
  • An hour of reading
  • An hour of writing
  • An hour of exercise (in whatever form that takes be it walking, gym, swimming, just something to get me moving.
These are SMART goals.

Other things I'd like to get done over the six weeks:
  • Spend time with friends.
  • Paint out the kitchen - it needs it, the landlord will pay for the paint and materials
  • Marie Kondo the flat - a daunting but necessary task
  • Cook all my meals - free from gluten, dairy and sugar - get back on that plan - I feel good on it.
  • Make some jam - that will be everybody's Xmas present this year. I like making jam.
  • Try and get that novel finished
  • And get my creativity back.
On this last point, the thing that really nurtures my soul is creating stuff. Poetry, short fiction, photos... little things that keep me bolstered, things that make my heart sing. Maybe dust off that film script, finish that novel, who knows what the time and desire will produce. I'm not setting boundaries or hard goals here - I just have to get creative.

And trust that this, along with the good eating and sunshine and friends and maybe the odd Netflix marathon, I'll get myself ready to start the next challenge at work. Early in the new year.

Well that's the goal.

In the mean time, if anybody is after a tarot reading, reflexology session/massage, having their CV updated, happy to oblige for beer money. You know where to find me. I knew I got these skills for a reason.                                           

 Watch this space.                                                                                                                                                                   

Today's Song:

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Book Group: The Long List

It's that time again. Book Group book choosing time.

So not only do I have the following things in my plate:

  • The Masons Temple Property Association AGM
  • Pending unemployment which I am calling a sabbatical
  • Christmas
  • Painting out the kitchen while on sabbatical
  • Marie Kondo-ing the flat
  • Going to the gym every day (or an hour of exercise equivalent)
  • Getting gluten, dairy and sugar out of my diet.
  • Selling stuff on Ebay/Facebook Marketplace
I have to find two books to put up for book group on 10 December. This is a hotly decided thing, done with rubber gloves and lollies. It's big. 

Off topic, the sabbatical starts on Friday night. My contract is up. I will look for work over December, but I have no intention of starting anytime before the middle of January. The right job will come along when it presents itself. In the mean time, I'll get my health and sanity back.

It's been a hard year. 

So working out what I'm putting up for book group for next year is just another added stress.

I have to find two books to put up for book group. There is a big challenge in this. This has to be done by next weekend. 

The criteria are as follows:
  • Preferably under 500 pages
  • Easily accessible in bookstores and libraries, online etc. 
  • Fiction only - no non-fiction, autobiography and memoir
  • Decent popular fiction or literary standard. We don't want a repeat of 'That Cat Book'.
I'm looking at my "to read" pile. Here are some of the candidates, with the pro/con list. 

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Pro: Fits the criteria. She won the Pulitzer a few years ago for A Visit from the Goon Squad. A decent writer.

Con: That she won the Pulitzer could be seen as a bad thing. 

Bruny by Heather Rose

Pro: Fits the Criteria. Her novel, The Museum of Modern Love was a favourite of mine from last year. Australian writer. It's got a Tasmanian theme. 

Con: Can't think of any.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Pro: It's Margaret Atwood. Fits the criteria. The continuation of The Handmaid's Tale. A great read (I've read this already)

Con: Dystopian fiction may not be everybody's cup of tea. 

All That I Am by Anna Funder.

Pro: Fits the criteria. Australian writer. A few years old. Historical. (I've read this too)

Con: It was put up for book group a few years ago and didn't make the cut. I don't know how this happened. 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Pro: Pulitzer winner. Fits the criteria.Amazing book. Book of the year for me. 

Con: The footnotes and the Spanish are going to piss people right off. I can't help it if I like challenging reads.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Pro: A classic. The book that came before the movie. INIGO MONTOYA! Fits the criteria. 

Con: All of the above.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

Pro: Fits criteria, but at 502 pages its on the long side. Booker Longlisted. Environmental theme.

Con: Booker longlisted (we have an interesting relationship with Booker winners in our book group). Allegedly and interesting structure - whatever that means. 

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Pro: Fits the criteria. Booker winner. Stunning writing. 

Con: Ferociously hard read. A Booker Winner. 

The Hate You Give by Angie Harper

Pro: Fits the criteria. Young Adult. Great voice. Topical.

Con: The fact that it's young adult. American. 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Pro: Topical. American. Not too long.

Con: It's about the American Justice system among other things - how sad. 

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Pro: Fits the criteria. She wrote The Poisonwood Bible. 

Con: She wrote The Poisonwood Bible. 

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Pro: Fits the criteria. About siblings. Not too long. Commonwealth had great writing.

Con: Not everybody's cup of tea. 

I've read some great non-fiction this year - The Erratics by Vickie Leveau-Harvie (memoir - and how I would love to put this up), Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, Any Ordinary Day by Lee Sales and Educated by Tara Westover.  I'm currently reading Clementine Ford's Fight Like a Girl. It's good, but a bit shouty. A great starter book for baby feminists to get them thinking. 

Ah, the decisions. It will probably get made next Sunday night with a gin and tonic in my hand after a Thanksgiving party in the Dandenongs. 

Wish me luck. And when in doubt, watch Christopher Walken dancing.

Today's Song

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Swapbot Questions

Writing this from a hotel room in Sydney. Lots to look forward to - my contract is up at the end of the week, so looking forward to a new job at the start of next year. I don't know where that it, but it will come. 

Also looking forward to at least six weeks of not working - where I will get to write, exercise, visit a friend in Brisbane and generally have some time to myself for a bit. Just hoping a new role comes in sooner rather than later, but I'm quite excited about the break and the new challenges ahead.

Very happy at the moment - but it is amazing how much life is improved by a tube of sweetened condensed milk used to ameliorate hotel coffee. Sweetened condensed milk makes life instantly better at any time. 

Questions, as always, come from Bev at Sunday Stealing

1. You can breathe underwater or be able to fly. Which one would you choose and why?

I'd love to be able to fly (without mechancial assistance). I think it would be great - also, I'm not overly fond of open water, so flying it is. Would make like a lot easier going to work too. No public transport. 
2. What's your go to order at a café?

For breakfast or dinner? 

Breakfast, it's either poached eggs on gluten free with a side of smoked salmon and tomato sauce (ketchup - and don't judge) or if I'm feeling a bit more decadent, Eggs Benedict. 

For dinner? Salt and Pepper Calamari or a Chicken Parmagiana. (For the Americans out there, Chicken Parmagiana is an iconic Australian meal. Crumbed chicken breast, smothered in Napoli (Marinara) sauce, and then topped with ham and melted cheese, normally served with chips and salad. There are websites dedicated to the best parmas in town like this one:  I can vouch for the one at the Royston.)

My standard coffee order is a medium almond decaf latte. I'm an Australian living in Melbourne - we know about coffee (none of that Starbuck's muck). 

3. Where do you feel the safest?

In bed, about to go to sleep, especially when there is somebody next to me - which rarely happens, but I do sleep better when there is somebody else in the house. 

4. What is the one book or book series you could reread without getting bored for the rest of time?

I've read the Harry Potter Series a few times over, and will read it many times over again. I want to read Robertson Davies's The Cornish Trilogy again - maybe while I'm on sabbatical. Other books I have read over and over and love to death: 
  •  The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
  •  Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres. 
  •  The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak
I also think Trent Dalton's Boy Swallows Universe will be added to this list. 

5. You will receive ten million dollars, but you need to spend one million dollars in 24 hours to receive the other nine million tax free (and you can’t tell anyone what you’re doing). What do you spend it on?

I'd buy a house in Melbourne. The average price for a house in Melbourne is about that now. Easy. 

6. What was your favorite vacation to date?

Other than the five weeks off where I went through Spain, The Netherlands, the US, Malaysia and Singapore? I think this last trip to India exceeded most of my exceeded most of my expectations. It wasn't the easiest of travels, but it was very rewarding. 

7. Is there any scent that reminds you of a specific memory? What is the scent and what does it remind you of?

Juicy Fruit chewing gum reminds me of my father. Gets me every time. 

8. What is your favourite TV series? Do you have just one or more?

I'm still on my Lucifer binge. Love it. I just like that its funny and has a good heart to it. 

Other favorite television shows in no particular order: 

  •  Six Feet Under
  •  The West Wing
  •  Suits
  •  The Doctor Blake Mysteries (though it's not really PC to say this)
  •  Red Dwarf
  •  Buffy the Vampire Slayer
9. They say that in life you need to try everything. Are there things you will never try?

I can think of two things. Heroin and necrophilia. Next.

10. If I ask you to close your eyes and remember a picture of you, what do you see?

There are two of them. One is of me at about seven years old. It's a school photo, I'm wearing a brown cardigan which my grandmother had knitted me and strangely I look pretty. The other one was taken of me at uni. I'm in a school uniform with a beer in my hand and I'm sitting in a shopping trolley. 

11. What was your childhood bedroom like?

I had what is called in Australian terms, the 'sleep out'. A converted verandah, some six foot wide by 22 foot long. It was the thoroughfare to the laundry and toilet. I painted it white. A card table was my desk (but I tended to do my homework on the dining room table). 

12. Are you a GoodWill, or any second hand store customer?

Only for fancy dress clothes. But I donate to the Salvos (Salvation Army charity store) regularly. 

13. How do you feel about the death penalty?

Australia abolished the death penalty in 1972, and the last person was executed in 1967 - the year before I was born. I'm not a fan of it at all. Too many innocent people have been executed for crimes they did not commit. It also doesn't leave any space for rehabilitation - as shown by the two fellows executed in Indonesia from the Bali Nine. Not saying they shouldn't stay in jail for what they did - but to show that they had been rehabilitated, only to die is such a waste. 

14.  If you could live in any fictional world, where would it be?

Please take me to Hogwarts. Please!

15. Do you believe in ghosts/spirits & have you had any experiences with them?

I think this question has appeared every week for the last month. Yes, I believe in ghost. I used to live in a haunted house in London. I'm not phased by spirits, as long as they are not too disruptive. 

Today's song: 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The From Facebook Questions

Yay. Sunday Stealing is back again. Phew. I'm so glad all the crap Bev, the convenor,  was dealing with is over.

Good questions this week.

I'm back from India. Two more weeks of work at my current place of employment, then I'm off on a few weeks of what I will call a sabbatial - or funemployment. I've got a number of irons in the fire, but most of these don't start until sometime in January, so I'm going to take the opportunity to take some time off. It's been a long time coming.

Anyway, on with the questions.

1) What is your favorite TV show (currently)?

Ah, I'm currently on a Lucifer binge. He's wonderful, and funny, and fun. And the show has a good heart, even when you consider the devil has come down to Los Angeles to have a vacation.

2) Would you like to be a child again?

Hell, no. Childhood was hard enough the first time around. I think it would be even harder now.

3) Has anyone ever told you that school times were the best period of his/her life? Would you say that to someone? Why?

That's nice for you. School days are a very relative thing for people.

4) How's the weather?

Today? Just my weather. It's sunny, a coolish 16 degrees centigrade (about 65 in the old language) and just good, considering it is going into Summer.

5) Do you like camping?

No. Next.

6) Do you believe in paranormal phenomena?

Well I do believe in ghosts. I've had too much experience with them not to.

7) If you would create a holiday, what would it be called and how would we celebrate it? When would this holiday be?

I gather this is like a public holiday as we call them over here. I think we should have Diwali over here, which is the Hindu form of Xmas. It's at the end of October and seems to be a great festival, seeing this is a festival of light.

8) What word(s) do you dislike? Can you tell why?

Other than the word moist - which is a dreadful word which is like nails on a blackboard to half the population - I'm not a fan of those filler exclamation words like super and awesome. They just grate on me, mainly because of overuse.

Also, the word dope. I Australia, a dope is an idiot, it's not a synonym for great.

9) What color do you dislike? What do you associate with it?

I don't do pink. It's a girly-girl colour. I'm not a girly girl. I can do a little bit of dusky rose, but anything else - no thanks. The only pink thing I do is rose lemonade.

10) Do you believe in otherworldly creatures, eg. ghosts, etc?

Hasn't this been asked already. I believe in ghosts. Vampires are a concept more than real - as for the rest of them, werewolves and zombies, no.

Oh, and I'm a practicing witch, so I believe in them too - but not in the way many people think of them.

11) Pick two of your favourite fictional characters. Where are they from (what movie, book, etc?) and why are they your favourite?

I really love Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride - he's plucky - he's overcome obstacles and he finally get what he wants.

Image result for be inigo montoya

I'm currently on  a Lucifer binge - and I'm loving Lucifer Morningstar. He's mad, he's bad, he's dangerous to know, but he has a heart of gold. I also get off on his accent.

Image result for lucifer morningstar

12) If you could change anything or add anything to your body would you? (this can be interpreted however, but, think, would you like to have fins or extra hands?)

A faster metabolism. I hate being a middle-aged woman sometimes.

13) What are some family traditions you have/had growing up? Do you still continue them, if yes, why, if no, why not?

Coming from a family of demure Cornish Methodists, we don't have many traditions - but I do like making an ice cream cake, called cassata, in loving memory of my Aunt who passed away nearly ten years ago. I make it at Christmas, when I can - her birthday was on Christmas Day and we made this for her as a birthday cake. I make it when I can.

14) What do you think of tattoos? Do you have any?

I like good, fine, detailed tattoos on other people. I have one very small tattoo on my hip. It's the Chinese symbol for love and it's been there for more than 20 years. I got it back when tattoos weren't trendy.

15)  What is the most disgusting habit some people have?

After spending time in India, watching men continually adjust themselves in the streets - no thank you. (It's a cultural thing - don't have to like it - and more in the lower classes, but still).

16)  If you could bring back one TV show that was cancelled, which would it be?

Oh, that would be a tossup between Quantum Leap - which I loved as a kid, Drop the Dead Donkey, which was a British satire set in a television new studio in the late nineties in London and really, they should have done another series of the very excellent, The Hour - BBC drama at its best.

17) What was the most unsettling film you have ever seen?

Se7en gave me nightmares for a week. Never revisited it, but gee it was bleak.

Dancer in the Dark was pretty shocking, but it's Lars von Trier, so what do you expect?

18) What book has impacted you the most?

Dr Spencer Johnson's Who Moved My Cheese? propelled my life into another direction in a day. I still go back and read it when I think things are stagnating.

19) You're on Death Row and get one final meal: What is that meal and why do you choose it?

My mum makes the best roast lamb in the world - so I'd ask for that. Probably followed by creme brulee or vanilla ice cream - and good vanilla ice cream. Sometimes it's the simple things.

20) What is the first profession you remember wanting to become as a child?

I wanted to be a doctor or an astronaut when I was a kid.

Today's song:

Monday, November 11, 2019

What I found on my holiday

Yesterday was the first Sunday in YEARS where I didn't do a Sunday blog post - strangely, there were no questions posted. I think Bev at Sunday Stealing is having a few difficulties.

Anyway, today is the last day of my holiday. I'm currently camped out at the Cordis Hotel in Hong Kong, which has to be one of the loveliest places I have stayed in my life. It's amazing. Fantastic staff and service, the best hotel pool I've ever swam in, great views and location. I'd happily stay here again.

Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end and at midnight tonight I fly back to Australia and an uncertain future (my contract is up at the end of the month and I'm looking at a few weeks of 'funemployment' which would really do me the world of good if I'm honest. A job will come in the new year).

Anyway, I thought today I'd do a wrap up of the holiday. I have so much to write about, so many things flying through my head, a potted version of what went on over the last few days is in order.

This really has been the trip of a lifetime.

I'll put this into categories, to make things easier.

What I forgot to bring?

I'm an over-packer, but to my credit, I used pretty much everything in my bag. The one thing that I really could have used in my pharmacy pack of a drugs - eyedrops. The air quality in Delhi was so bad kids were kept home from school. Now in Hong Kong, my eyes are suffering from all the air conditioning. I bought everything else. Pharmacies could not be found around where I was staying.

I like being an Australian

Don't say this very often, but I am fond of some of my decent Australian traits. I like our general equalities. I like that we know how to queue. I love how we can strike up a conversation with pretty much anybody. I love that I'm resilient and adaptable. I'm glad that I've the ability to look at a situation, nod, smile and laugh (Very useful thing to have in India).

In India, you get called M'am a lot. It doesn't sit well with me. I found myself apologising and thanking people. The people are so friendly and try to be helpful. It's a strange dichotomy.

In the pool last night, I struck up a conversation with a guy from Wagga Wagga - as you do. He said the same thing - we Aussies are curious about the world. We want to find out more. We will talk to anybody. It's good.

Family is what you make of them

Indian weddings are about family and about show. They aren't really about the couple when it all boils down to it - something we Aussies found a bit strange.

At the wedding there were eleven of us from Australia. Most of whom worked with the bride in Sydney. Rue, Priya's office Mum. Al and Annette, and Mac, Martina and their five teenage kids.

For reasons I can't go into and don't get, none of Raj's family attended the wedding - a huge hole in proceedings for any wedding.

So we Aussies did our best to make up for the Raj's family sized hole.

Mac, a senior manager at the bank, stepped up in a father role.

Me, well I've been calling Raj my adopted brother for years, but I also go to be sort of be Mum.

We all rallied around Raj, trying our best to make sure he got the wedding he deserved, with people he could call family.

Raj and I went shopping on the day of the wedding - partly because after a week in India I wanted a little bit of normality, and I'd left my foundation at home, and I was getting ratty and wanted a bit of Western life (and there wasn't a McDonalds about, which is where you go in foreign countries when you need something familiar and besides, they sell no beef at McDonalds in India). The hotel left us pretty isolated - and shopping centres are few and far between. We had a puddle around the shops and had lunch in a food court, Raj ordering a food court lunch, Indian style. It was a time I'll treasure. Something Mum and son (or in our case, adopted siblings) would do anywhere on the day of the wedding. Which was held at the civilised tome of 6 pm - and not the traditional midnight.

It was the most maternal I've ever felt.

Leaving India on Saturday, I know I've walked away with friends. Mac and Martina's kids were some of the nicest young humans I've met in years (even got a hug goodbye from their twelve and fourteen year old boys - without asking - like did that even happen?)

I can live without Wifi

Indian telecommunications are interesting, especially if you're on the Telstra network in Australia. Yes, you can get and make calls and texts, but mobile data is not available to you. (and please don't tell me to get a Vodaphone account where you can get data at $5 a day while overseas  - no chance)

There was always Wifi at the hotels - but there was no mobile data available during the day.

I survived. The digital detox did me the world of good.

Bottle water: Saviour or Sinner

I hate to think about the number of bottles of water I've used in the last ten days. The overuse of plastic horrifies me, but not quite as much as explosive diarrhoea, stomach cramps, fevers and vomiting. Thankfully I didn't get sick while I was over there, but being really vigilant with the bottled water and hand sanitiser probably helped.

Unwanted Observance

On the streets. It's maybe a cultural/socio-economic thing, or maybe it's a hygiene thing or maybe it's scabies, but Indian men touch themselves a hell of a lot more than Western men, who've probably had the habit of regular groin adjusting knocked out of them in early childhood. Once seen, it can't be unseen. Ah well. (A friend told me before I left,"In India, things that are seen as private here are very much public." Spitting, urination, defecating… you don't have to look hard -just watch where your feet are going.)

Things I have missed:

In no real order:
  • Cleaning my teeth using water from the tap
  • Salad and green vegetables (Salads are an hard to go without, but as you don't know what they were washed in, easier to stay away)
  • Stars (didn't see one in Delhi, Varanasi or Hong Kong)
  • Getting a straight answer - obfuscation is something in which Indians all have Masters Degrees
  • Obedient traffic that doesn't use the horn for every simple traffic movement
  • Animals with apparent, loving owners on the streets
  • Short queues
  • Soft selling techniques
Resilience is an underrated quality

I had seven hours at Varanasi airport because of delays caused by the pollution. In that time I befriended a Gujarat family, had dinner with the wonderful Linda and Matthew from Hornsby, who were also delayed, comparing a lot of notes, had a half hour conversation, in French, with some Parisians, found a first name mate to board the plane with (we looked after each other's stuff when we needed to go to the loo). It made the ever growing delay almost okay - which is what you need when you're stuck in a regional airport in India.

When we finally arrived in Delhi at 1 am, my transfer was nowhere to be seen and my was phone dead. Managed to wangle a call to the hotel from a driver, and proceeded to hang out with the transfer man from the Holiday Inn until the driver turned up half an hour later.

Delhi is notoriously not a safe place for women at night. This is a blog post in its own right. But a bit of nous and resilience got me through.

My favourite bits of the last ten days:

In no order:
  • The ghats at Varanasi
  • That cycle rickshaw ride through the streets of Varanasi
  • The Taj Mahal
  • Agra Fort
  • Karahi Paneer. If I stayed longer I would turn into Karahi Paneer - or just paneer in general. Love paneer. 
  • Masala chai, even down to having to skim the skin off the top.
  • The whole process of the Indian Wedding and being there for the kid brother
  • Getting to know Rue, Al, Annette, Mac, Martina and their tribe.
  • My favourite dumpling bar in Tsim Sha Tsui
  • The last day in Delhi with Rue, a driver named Dalip, the Gandhi museums and the Qutar Minar.
  • Not having to wear seat belts in the back seat of a car.
  • The Jama Masjid Mosque. 
  • My mehendi. It went really dark. Tradition has it there is somebody out there who loves me very much - just have to find out who that is. I'll have the patterns on my hands for another week.
Plenty of writing fodder from this last ten days, but for now, I need to check out and go for a wander around this brilliant city - which is a little quieter than it was six months ago, but it is still very much the Hong Kong I know and love.


Today's Song:

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Day Two: Assaulting the Senses

This has taken two days to write. I've been struggling to find the words to what comes down to one of the best days of my life.

Varanasi was always a pilgrimage place for me. When Raj announced he was getting married, it was the first place on my list of places to go. There was no thought involved about coming here – it just had to be done. It’s that gut feeling that comes, saying, ‘Go on, challenge yourself. Get uncomfortable. See something different. See what the other people are talking about.”

This first day of the trip has been one of the most exciting, confronting and amazing days of my life. The mind has been officially blown, fears have been faced, and beliefs and conceptions challenged. What more do you want on a holiday?

I met my travelling companions the night before. Pete and Mark from Adelaide, two travelling companions who, like me, had come to Varanasi to have their minds blown. Both in their mid-fifties, divorced, well-travelled, open-minded and up for fun, they were just what was asked for in the travelling companion stakes – couldn’t ask for better. Also, as I was to find out later, a good foil to my single woman traveller status.

Our guide, Mahendra, an upstanding but lugubrious sort. Very serious. With a decent grasp of colloquial English, with no time for irony or humour, I felt a little sorry for him, stuck with three dry-witted Aussies.

I was picked up for day one of the tour at 9 AM. The first part of the day was a cycle rickshaw tour of Varanasi and its temples.

Things to know about cycle rickshaws:

·         They don’t have seat belts

·         They don’t have Jesus bars (You know, the handle on the roof of the car you grab on to at times of near-death misses or other existential crises)

·         You’re not offered a crash helmet

·         They were probably manufactured around the time the British were in power

·         The bloke driving it is probably well into his 50s if not older

·         They are a very efficient way of getting around Varanasi

·         They also come with a terror factor of eleven until you get used to them.

I looked at the man who was about to cart me around and instantly felt very sorry for him – then I looked over at the others and realised they were in the same boat, Pete and Mark also being double the size of these men, and I let it go.

And we were off, on what can only be described as a dodgem car ride through the narrow, dirty, dusty streets of Varanasi.

I don’t know how the traffic works, but it does. There seems to be some sort of cantilever motion. Cars, trucks, tuk tuks, cycle rickshaws, bicycles, pedestrians, cows, goats, horses… you name it jostle for position. The use of the horn is compulsory, it appears, as is the use of hand signals. One thing this is missing is the road rage, of which there is none.

So, there you are, in the open air, four foot above the ground, hanging on to dear life as the traffic moves around you, and with you. But with the will of Ganesha to smooth the way, and a bit of looking to the sky and muttering, ‘Inshallah’, you get where you need to go in one piece. Your pulse is racing, you’re covered in dirt, diesel fumes and heaven knows what other detritus, but you get there.

Over the morning, we covered the main temples of the city – the Hanuman Temple, the Ganga temple and the Shiva temple. All fascinating and beautiful in equal measure. Mahendra was very officious in his duties of imparting knowledge about these places. The three of us would be put on a spot, lectured about all sorts of things, then left to wander.

The penultimate stop was the Mother India temple, which has a large, carved marble map of India inside. It was here that I had my first minor freak out. Until this time, I’d been pretty okay with everything I’d seen and done.

Outside the temple sat a snake charmer with a couple of monkeys. The monkeys were chained to him, the cobras were in their pots. Something snapped. I went and sat under a tree, muttering “Nope, nope, nope, can’t do this.” Snakes are bad enough, but bloody monkeys...  It was when the man gave the monkeys toy guns to play with that sent me flying. You can’t do anything about it. It’s the man’s livelihood. Walk away.

Animals don’t get a great deal here, so there is a bit of turning the other cheek and walking on happening. Cows litter the roads. Dogs lazing roam the place, not looking for food or affection. You come face to face with goats – both a meat and milk source – all the middle of a city of two million people. As I said, don’t have to like it and I can’t do anything about it – though finding a team of vets to neuter the street dogs might be a start.

The last stop on the tour was to a silk factory. A small visit to the looms was followed by a trip to the showroom, where the three of us were paraded with silk items. All gorgeous. All expensive.

It’s here we got our first real lesson in gender politics around here. I, a woman, was with two men. So that’s okay.

In Australia, we’re pretty equal, though don’t mention the pay gap or domestic violence statistics.

I got my first feeling of being a second-class citizen. For some reason, I was referred to as ‘your wife’. The boys sniggered and said, “She’s not my wife. Left my ex-wife at home with her new husband.” Oh. The guys would be asked questions. Where did they come from? What did they do? Where were they going? What did they like about Varanasi? I was left to sit there and admire the silks.

There’s been a bit of this, more in Varanasi, but that feeling that as a woman, you’re not seen. The streets are a testament to this. Wherever you look, there are men. Women roaming the streets are few and far between. The boys noticed this and were good about it, and I was thankful they were there. They were a good buffer to some of this rampant sexism. Okay, so I was relegated to the role of ‘wifey’, at least I wasn’t getting pestered.

After a spot of lunch, some down time and recovering a bit of nerve, we set out later, this time by car, to go and see the ghats.

This is what Varanasi is known for. There are 88 ghats (or 84, depending on which information source you go to), built up areas of the riverbank providing steps down the river. There are all sorts of ghats. Some ceremonial, some for more everyday duties like washing, bathing and heaven forbid, fishing). The most famous of these are the Burning Ghats – Harishchandra and Manikarnika – the place where bodies are taken to be cremated, on pyres, next to the river. In the open. For everybody to see.

We pulled up in one of the side streets and made our way to the ghats. Mahendra stopped us. Around us, long with a plethora of goats, piles of wood lined the streets. He stopped us there. “We’re about to go to the Harishchandra ghat. There are many cremations happening. Please be respectful. No photos. I will tell you when we’re far enough away.” I questioned him about my presence there – having read many things about this. I was told I was fine to move around the ghat, just don’t go down to watch the pyres up close. No worries there. Even from a short distance around the corner, it felt like blast furnace.

I readied myself.

And was thankfully fine. Better than fine.

What you really get from Varanasi is a sense that life really happens here. It’s all out in the open. You see everything. Kids begging, people waiting around, men bathing in public near the bus station or pissing into a drain (you see a lot of that), four people and a baby, sans helmet, on the back of a motorcycle is the norm. So, when it comes to death, Varanasi’s take on this is unique.

Gone are the Western attitudes of death being behind closed doors, in boxes, to be carefully managed, grief is to be silent and unseen. Varanasi is THE place to be cremated. Allegedly, to be sent to cinders here is the most auspicious way to make your way into your next life.

Bodies are shrouded, carried to the ghat, placed on a pyre, doused with Ganges water, then set alight. This is done by a team of people known as ‘Untouchables’, who man the pyres, ensuring the body is completely cremated. Once the fire dies away, the ashes are sifted through for gold, then the ashes and other small fragments are thrown in the Ganges.

Fun facts:

·         It takes about three hours to completely cremate a body in this way

·         About 100 cremations take place on any given day

·         There is a more conventional electric crematorium next door to the Harishchandra ghat

·         It tends to be only Varanasi natives who get to be cremated at the ghats.

Mark and I readied ourselves. Neither of us knew what to expect.

And as I said. It was okay. First up, the smell is not one of death – just a wood fire burning. The heat is intense.  Secondly, you see what you see. In my case, a set of shrouded feet sticking out from the pyre. It was okay. I said a silent prayer for the dead and moved on. The Untouchable will deftly prod the fire, ensuring errant limbs like this are incinerated. For the people on the lowest level of the society, they have a very important job. It’s an important job too.

We moved to the next ghat along to catch our boat over to the Dashashwamedh Ghat to watch the Flower Candle ceremony.

After being placed in small, leaky boat, which promptly broke down 100 metres away from the riverbank, we were towed back and placed on a slightly bigger, also dilapidated boat, which was thankfully operational and made our way up to the ceremony.

It’s an amazing sight. Priests waving fire and fans around, thousands of pilgrims, nearly as many tourists, traditional chanting. I just sat back and took it all in.

We made our way back to where we came from, once again, walking past the Burning Ghat, once again, being surprised at how normal this all felt. Mark and I traded notes. We had very similar thoughts about coming to Varanasi – and this was part of the reason why – and we both felt good about the experience.

Walking back to the pick-up spot, a team of untouchables passed with a body hoisted on their shoulders ready to be sent back to where they came from.

In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, and so it goes…

Sleep took a while to come, once a dinner Karahi Paneer, garlic naan and a bowl of vanilla ice cream had been eaten.

One of the best bits of advice I got about India was to look for a little bit of normality in your day, a touchstone to bring you back to balance.

For me, this is a small bowl of vanilla ice cream after dinner. It calms the senses, settles the nerves and makes you realise that for all that is out there, it is the small joys which bring most pleasure.

Today's Song:

Wednesday Medley

My Sunday post is a bit late as poor Bev at Sunday Stealing was treated to some rather nasty online abuse.

So I'm writing this on a Wednesday from my room at the Ashok Country Resort in Delhi India. I'm having a down day as over the last two days, thanks to an early morning boat ride on the Ganges, a delayed plane, 7 hours of waiting at Varanasi airport, a lost transfer, having to rely on the kindness of strangers,  a check in at my hotel, a 5.30 wake up call, a day trip by train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal... I need a day to do nothing but write, watch a bit of Lucifer and get ready for tonight's mehendi party, where I hope my hands will be painted with henna in preparation for Friday's wedding.

(I was here yesterday... )

So here we go:

1. All things pumpkin are everywhere. What is your one very favorite pumpkin flavored food or drink?  Do you wish it was available all year or do you only want it in the Fall?

I'm not sure how many times I've said this, but I'm Australian. Pumpkin is a savoury dish. It is available all year round. It is not to be messed and made into desserts. My mum's roast pumpkin she has with roast lamb is just awesome. I roast a lot of pumpkin too. It's good stuff - when savoury. 
2. What product would you seriously stockpile if you found out they weren't going to sell it anymore?

I have stockpiled some Cadbury's Caramilk chocolate. They only release it every so often. I have about six blocks in the freezer. It's so sweet I can only have a square or two if it at a time. 

3. What is the most interesting thing you have seen online this week?

I haven't been online much. Being in India, I've got no mobile internet reception and I'm at the behest of the wifi gods, so I haven't seen or heard much. Don't even know who won the Melbourne Cup, not that this is a biggie as I tend to boycott the day anyway. 

4. Is it better to be a "big fish in a small pond" or a "small fish in a big pond"?

Small fish in big pond. You get away with more, she says with a smile. 

5. Do you play chess?  Are you good at it?

I can play chess, but I have not played for years, and I'm pretty crap at it. I wish I was better. 

6. Tell us something random about your week.

I got to see a body burning on a pyre on the Harishchandra ghat in Varanasi. It did not disturb or upset me. It did not smell. The whole process was very reverential. (You are welcome to check out the blog posts from this holiday if you so wish on this blog - it's been the experience of a lifetime.)

7. What is your favorite Frank Sinatra song? 

In browsing YouTube for a song by 'Ole Blue Eyes' I was taken aback at how many of his versions of songs that I knew. Should I go to the Guys and Dolls soundtrack? Or the 60s hits with the rat pack.

Nah, I chose this, one of my favourite songs ever. 

8. Has your state approved the sale of medical marijuana?  In a nutshell, what are your thoughts on the subject?

They are seriously thinking about it in the state I live in in Australia. Bring it on I say. 

9. Einstein’s Theory of Happiness is: “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”   Was Einstein right?


10. Do you enjoy fresh peaches?  What is your favorite way to use them in a recipe?

Yes I like fresh peaches, but please, just cut them up and put them with a bit of ice cream and don't be too fussy with them. They, like most fruit, are best kept simple. 

Today's Song: 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Day Two: We're not in Kansas anymore...

I am too tired to be brave, yet to pumped to stay still.

So, I’ve relocated to the hotel bar, ordered a beer and set my self up in the ultra-retro, ultra-stylish bar of the Hotel Hindustan, Varanasi, because really, when you’re waiting for your tour to start, what else is there to do? And when in doubt, and you know you can’t drink the water, drink beer.

It’s a rule I’ve taken with me to Bali and Thailand – it’s a rule that I’m going to use here. Beer is your friend in third world countries. The beer won’t send your stomach into spasms. Beer is normally good and plentiful in these hot, strange places – it’s your go-to bevvie, as you know it will normally be good – think Bintang in Bali, or Chang in Thailand – more than palatable. (Same could be said for Adelaide – the water is next to brackish at the best of times, but it is the home of Coopers… who’d a thunk it.) So, it is just me, my 650 ml bottle of Kingfisher and a very fetching orange and brown bar, décor circa 1975, failing electricity and a laptop with a charged battery. I am wearing a huge smile.

This place is NUTS. It’s more okay. It’s fantastic.

I have poor Anand, the bartender, answering my questions and keeping me company while I write this. I’ll find some dinner a bit later and turn in early. The wifi here is next to dead, but it seems a bit better down here than in my room. The room is fine – clean enough if you ignore the slightly musty smell. TripAdvisor had warned me, so my expectations were managed.  All is well. The tour starts tomorrow. I’ve met my tour mates, but I’ll get to them shortly. I think we’re in for some fun.

I’ve been wary about this trip for months, as many of you know. More fear of the unknown that fear of anything else.

Today was always going to be my down day. I arrived in India at 9.00 last night. From the moment I got off the plane, my fears dissipated. Some of this was the fact that walking into the customs halls the first thing you see is a frieze depicting mudras – hand gestures used in yoga with the intent of channelling energy flows. For some reason, I found this comforting.

An hour later, after queuing in the All Other Passports lane – duly photographed and fingerprinted, my passport was stamped and I was left to find my suitcase, which was thankfully going around on the carousel. In another five minutes, leaving the arrivals hall, a man was standing with a card with my name on it. 15 minutes later, I was at my airport hotel – after once again my bags being x-rayed and my person being patted down. More on this too.


Two showers and seven hours of coma-like sleep later, I was back at the airport for the flight to Varanasi.

And it was at this moment that I fully realised that I was no longer in Kansas and the only thing I could do was put a big smile on my face, laugh and enjoy experience.

Alighting the courtesy car, I queued to get into the main building. You’re only allowed in if you have a valid ticket. I presented my passport and itinerary to the man in the uniform with the pistol and made my way inside. No dramas, however, slightly disconcerting.

The conversation was short.

“Varanasi, yes.”




“Your cricket team is getting better.”

“We won back The Ashes.”

“Have a good trip.”

This was the third of about 20 cricket related conversations I’ve had today.

Here are some things to know about Delhi Airport. It’s modern. It’s got good air conditioning. And it’s probably somewhere that Dante had in mind when describing the eighth circle of hell. Melbourne airport and the Sydney/Melbourne commuter crush at seven AM on a Monday morning has NOTHING on this.

Unlike Australia, where you get to the airport an hour before a flight, here, you give it two hours. And you need it. It’s not the check in process – that’s fine. The security processes, however, are another matter.

Once you have your boarding pass and your bag is sent on its way, you’re sent to the security queue. This is where the fun starts. The queue is LONG, unruly and sexist – but I am looking at this through my rose-coloured Western glasses. Once you reach the x-ray machines, you are divested of your belongings and you’re sent to the queue to have your person screened. There is a queue for women and two queues for men. As a woman, you go through the metal detector, and are then ushered into covered cubicle where a female security officer pats you down. Then, and only then, can you go get your belongings. I queued for about 20 minutes. Making things worse, the stragglers arriving at the queue, pushing in, delaying you further, with monotonous regularity.

And here is the big disparity. As a woman, you’re treated very differently. The waits are longer, the queues are longer. On your own – you’re a bit of an anomaly. It’s not that subtle but I’m told it’s getting better – but again, through my Western lens, this is something I’d get very annoyed with very quickly.

The flight to Varanasi was unremarkable, other than it was an hour late. I was seated next to a lovely couple from Iowa, Anne and Susan. Educated, well-travelled, erudite and fun, we chatted over the flight about many things – their dislike and distrust of Trump, where they had travelled, Australian crime series (they both love Phryne Fisher and Dr Blake) amongst other things. It made the flight go quickly.

Arriving in Varanasi, I once again looked for my name on a card. I was met by Mahendra, our tour guide and the two other people on the trip - Mark and Pete from Adelaide.

Talking more, we found out a bit more about each other. The important stuff. Mark is a Hawthorn supporter. Pete goes for the Crows. They are on a longer tour, heading off on an 18-day tour of the North of India after this. As we were stowing our bag, I caught sight of Mark’s address on his bag. Mark lives around the corner to where I grew up as a kid in Seaview Downs. The world is small and mysterious.

Unfortunately, they are staying at the other Intrepid hotel in Varanasi, about 20 minutes by car away (and looks a lot better than this one).  I think we’d have a ball if we were in the same place. I’ll see them tomorrow at 9 am when I’m collected for Day one of the tour – Varanasi Old Town by Rickshaw.

So far, Varanasi is an enigma. This is one of the oldest cities in India. Its dirty, it’s frenetic and it’s nuts. The traffic can only be described as Bali on steroids. Cows wander the streets. It’s sad to see them foraging through rubbish – as Mahendra said, no milk, no food – they are left to wander.

The other thing I’ve noticed – the streets are full of men – women are barely seen. They are a rare sight. Again, from a Western lens, its disconcerting. I’ll look into this more as the trip continues.

Also strange, when we dropped off the boys at their hotel, I sat fast. The driver encouraged me to get out. It took a bit for him to negotiate that I was on my own and the boys were travelling together. As a woman, it appears I’m supposed to be at the behest of a man. Allegedy. Ah well.

My beer has been drained. I need to find some dinner. Unwilling to negotiate the streets by myself at night, I’ll see what the restaurant downstairs has to offer. I’ll take my book. It’s all good.

A proper night’s sleep and I’ll be up for more tomorrow. I'm hoping the jetlag won't be biting too hard.