Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Vaikom, India


... velour ceilings and a fan ...
The most popular trip was sold out -- boat rides through the islands.

We were told that they were trying to arrange more excursions, but the problem was finding enough small boats.

Since that was out of the question, my second choice was to visit a village.

Because I live near a small village in the summer and am always interested in what is going on there, I thought a small hamlet in India would be of equal interest to me.

Greg, Wyona, Moiya and David felt the same way so we signed  up for the same trip.

... river crossing on the way to the village ...














The ride to the village would be an hour, we were told.

Greg said afterwards how surprised he was, since an hour ride to a village seemed to us to mean that we would be seeing the countryside.

Instead there were stores and houses along the road, almost until we arrived at the village.

People were walking along the streets, families drove by on bicycles, and trucks whose cabs were psychedelic works of art were parked by the sides of the road.

... drumming before getting into tuk-tuks ...
















We were met by village drummers.

And then we transferred to a tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) for the rest of the journey to the village.

The transfer did not happen without resistance.

I have been warned so many times not to engage in conversation with anyone approaching me with an offer of a local tour, that I walked by the first 6 tuk-tuks, thinking it was my job to walk to the village.

I would have never made it in the heat.

Afterwards someone said, "The bus tour guide should have explained to us that we were to get into those vehicles."

I didn't agree because no one could get enough explanations to take care of all of the vagaries that happen along the way of such a trip.

... Moiya's markings begin to melt ...
... three sisters pause in the heat ...

I do not know which was more surprising to me of the following three things.

First a small boy motioned to me that I should put down my head, 
and he put a flower lei around my neck.

Then a woman came by and made a red mark on my forehead.

Then a huge cocoanut with a straw extruding out of the top was thrust into my hands.  

I could just hear myself thinking ... boy, this is already a lot of fun and we haven't even entered the village, really.   Three more hours of this.  I am going to die from happiness.

... a candid in the jungle ...

















The general theme was to show us the village: a woman making clay pots, another woman weaving baskets, and a third preparing herbs to cure headaches. We saw a  man doing silver smithing; we watched women preparing lunches for their families.

... Am I in the picture? ...


I am having some trouble with the text of this post, since one part of the tour felt like we were going from station to station, as we would if we were going to see a group of students displaying their science projects.

On the other hand, there was this amazing feeling of being in the jungle, hearing the sounds of the birds, being overwhelmed by the humid air, observing the details of the jungle growth, walking on the dirt paths and turning corners around trees and walking over planks that crossed tiny streams.

... now everyone make a funny face ...
















The little boy who had put the wreath around my neck followed me along, asking my name, practising his English on me.  Finally I caught on and asked him his name.

I began taking pictures of the flora and fauna, but their little faces were far more interesting to me.

Wyona said to me, "Where are the girls?  We haven't seen any of the girls."

"I noticed that too," I said.

Wyona asked one of the women where the little girls were.

And soon the little girls appeared -- so sweet, hanging onto their mother's hands.

I was carrying a worry that I would not be able to fully experience everything around me.

I was taking pictures of clay vases by the side of the road, of the washing hanging by the houses.

Why am I always taking pictures of that, I thought.  Venice.  Rome.  Egypt.  Alexandria.  Now India.  Is it because I want to see that invisible work of how people really live.
 
... Greg pauses in the jungle shadows ...
But somehow it is more than that. 

I want to see how they hang the bananas by the side of the store, where the little stream runs to, ask why there is only one bucket by the well

I am charmed by the 3-person toilet that has been set up for us. 

"You aren't going to use that," a woman said to me.

"Are you kidding.  I am trying everything whether I need to or not," I reply.

I am working at taking in every moment of this adventure. The village is working hard to show us how they live.  I want to do my part to take enough in that I can work out the bits and pieces I don't understand when I get home.

... serenity by the stream ...
When I saw this quiet stream running beside one of the paths, I thought it captured what the village must feel like when it is quieter ... not on display.

So beautiful, the cottage on the other side, the well tended paths, the hedges carefully planted and trimmed.

... a complimentary snack ... 
Coke or coconut shell with straw





Complimentary snacks -- that is what the tour guide told us about the L-shaped table.

Coke or cocoanut milk.

Your culture or ours.

I have been running my set of photos from the village on my desktop since I got home.

I stop each day to take another look at the magic of a small Indian village in the province of Kerala.

Arta

Monday, 10 December 2012

Vaikom, Kerala

The most popular trip was sold out -- boat rides through the islands.

We were told that they were trying to arrange more excursions, but the problem was finding enough small boats.

Since that was out of the question, my second choice was to visit a village. Because I live near a small village in the summer and am always interested in what is going on there, I thought a small hamlet in India would be of equal interest to me.

Greg, Wyona, Moiya and David felt the same way so we signed  up for the same trip.
... on the way to the village ...

The ride to the village would be an hour, we were told.

Greg said afterwards how surprised he was, since an hour ride to a village seemed to us to mean that we would be seeing the countryside.

Instead there were stores and houses along the road, almost until we arrived at the village.

People were walking along the streets, families drove by on bicycles, and trucks whose cabs were psychedelic works of art were parked by the sides of the road.

... village drummers welcoming the tourists...

 We were met by village drummers.

And then we transferred to a tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw) for the rest of the journey to the village.

The transfer did not happen without resistance.

I have been warned so many times not to engage in conversation with anyone approaching me with an offer of a local tour, that I walked by the first 6 tuk-tuks, thinking it was my job to walk to the village.

... Moiya's head marking begins to wilt ...

I would have never made it in the heat.

Afterwards someone said, "The bus tour guide should have explained to us that we were to get into those vehicles."

I didn't agree because no one could get enough explanations to take care of all of the vagaries that happen along the way of such a trip.

... a moment together in the village ...

I do not know which was more surprising to me of the following three things.

First a small boy motioned to me that I should put down my head, and he put a flower lei around my neck.

Then a woman came by and made a red mark on my forehead.

Then a huge coconut with a straw extruding out of the top was thrust into my hands.  

I could just hear myself thinking ... boy, this is already a lot of fun and we haven't even entered the village, really. 

... a candid in an Indian village ...

The general theme was to show us the village: a woman making clay pots, another woman weaving baskets, and a third preparing herbs to cure headaches.

We saw a man doing silver smithing; we watched women preparing lunches for their families.

... am I in that picture? ...
I am having some trouble with the text of this post, since one part of the tour felt like we were going from station to station, as we would if we were going to see a group of students displaying their science projects.

On the other hand, there was this amazing feeling of being in the jungle, hearing the sounds of the birds, being overwhelmed by the humid air, observing the details of the jungle growth, walking on the dirt paths and turning corners around trees and walking over planks that crossed streams.

... everyone's turn for a funny face ... 

The little boy who had put the wreath around my neck followed me along, asking my name, practising his English on me.

I began taking pictures of the flora and fauna, but their little faces were far more interesting to me.

Wyona said to me, "Where are the girls?  We haven't seen any of the girls."

"I noticed that too," I said.

Wyona asked one of the women where the little girls were.

And soon the little girls appeared -- so sweet, hanging onto their mother's hands.

I was worrying that I would not be able to fully experience everything around me.

I was taking pictures of clay vases by the side of the road, of the washing hanging by the houses.

Why am I always taking pictures of that, I thought.  Venice.  Rome.  Egypt.  Alexandria.

Now India.

I want to see that invisible work of how people really live.
 
... Greg pauses in the jungle shadows ...
But somehow it is more than that. 

I want to see how they hang the bananas by the side of the store, where the little stream runs to, ask why there is only one bucket by the well

I am charmed by the 3-person toilet that has been set up for us. 

"You aren't going to use that," a woman said to me.

"Are you kidding.  I am trying everything whether I need to or not," I reply.

I am still working at making this whole experience complete.

The village is working hard to show us how they live.

I want to do my part to take enough in that I can work out the bits and pieces I don't understand when I get home.

... capturing the serenity of the village ...

When I saw this quiet stream running beside one of the paths, I thought it captured what the village must feel like when it is quieter ... not on display.

... a complimentary snack ...

So beautiful, the cottage on the other side, the well tended paths, the hedges carefully planted and trimmed.

Coke or coconut shell with straw

Complimentary snacks -- that is what the tour guide told us about the L-shaped table.

Coke or cocoanut milk.

Your culture or ours.

I have been running my set of photos from the village on my desktop since I got home.

I stop each day to take another look at the magic of a small Indian village in the province of Kerala.

Arta

Notoriety


Wyona and David in bare feet,
splashing in the water in
front of St. Mark's Cathedral
“Why might the photographers on the boat know you”, Bonnie asked.

I told her I would tell this painful story.

To begin with, I have a nice hand held Canon SX220 HS – purchased because my arms would get too tired carrying my larger Canon on day trips off of the boat.

A lovely purple colour and I can tell it apart from Moiya’s camera, for though hers is the same camera, it is a turquoise colour.


David and Wyona with their shoes back on.
One afternoon while the boat was docked, David came rushing down to have Moiya and me come up to the veranda view from the 14th floor and look with him at another boat that had docked, people streaming off of it.

It seemed there was no organized way to pick up luggage and both he and I were busy taking shots of travellers sitting on huge piles of luggage while their friends were still off gathering more cases of goods.

That night I downloaded my pictures, and then a little later picked up my camera and erased everything on the memory card.

I was careful.

I saw the first picture that said, do you want to erase all, and it was a picture I recognized from the afternoon shoot, I said yes.

Moiya and David at the canal
When the erasing took longer than normal I had my first clue as I thought, how odd.

That took longer to erase than usual.

Then I looked at the camera and thought, hey, I thought my camera was purple and not turquoise. Whoops.

When Moiya came back to the room, I asked her to lay down on her bed while I talked to her.

David and Arta looking over the
Grand Canal in Venice
She said she wasn’t tired. I told her she might be when I was finished my story.

I began by telling her that I have seen David all over the ship, taking pictures for days now; I would see him in an easy chair, looking over the ocean in some lounge, erasing the pictures he didn’t want, then I would see him down in the Centrum doing the same thing a few hours later. I told her that he doesn’t have those pictures anymore.

I have erased them all. Moiya was pretty cool about it, but they weren’t her pictures.

Then David came into the room.

I had to start my story again. When I began to retell my story, Moiya took the bedsheet and pulled it slowly up over her head so she only had to hear and didn’t have to see.

“You erased them all?”

“All.”

“Do you know any way to get them back?”

“Not that I know of.”

“I am going to the ship’s photography department and maybe they can help me.”

All of the above pics were those recovered
from David's camera
due to the magic of the Celebrity Photo Dept.
This may have taken Dave 5 trips, over the course of three days. Each time they felt they were getting a little closer, but hadn’t had success yet.


“Your sister-in-law.”

“Are you still staying in the same room with her.”

“Is walking the plank legal?”

He would come back and torture me with what they were saying.

The department eventually accessed a program that would bring Dave’s 1000 pics all back. The department was successful because I didn’t know to format the disk every time I erased it, something I have now learned.

That is how everyone in the photography department got to know me before I won their special prize of $100 of free pictures.

Greg and Wyona just bought a new camera yesterday – exactly like Dave’s and mine, but Greg’s is fuchsia.

When I saw the new camera I asked Greg if he had anything he wanted me to erase on it.

Arta

Singapore


... sky approaching Singapore ...
The sky never ceases to amaze me. I feel this way at home.

Even when it is -40, in Alberta, you can look up and think that the sky is breath-taking. I often feel that breathlessness when I look out of a balcony on the boat at sunset.

The sun setting, and the ripples on the water look different every night.

... mist at Port Kelang ...
One thing I like about a buffet table is that I can circle it a number of times before I have to choose what I will eat.

That circling, looking at something a number of times, that is what I miss when I am on a bus tour or looking out onto a river.

Even with my camera in hand, it is still often too late to take a picture by the time the thought crosses my mind.

This was particularly true the morning we came into Port Kelang.

"I will take pictures when the mist rises," I thought.


But the mist never rose.

Kuala Lumpur War Memorial
I also found that when the five of us travel together, there are few chances to get pictures with more than a couple of people.

We scatter like seeds in the wind, so while I could get a picture of Wyona and David, Greg and Moiya were somewhere else.
This airport in Singapore only rivals the one in Barcelona.

"Look, you can eat off of the floors," says Wyona there.

"Yes, my favorite airport," replies Greg.

 ... two weary travellers at the Singapore airport ...
I hadn't seen the airport in Singapore before, so I wanted to walk around. "Gives Barcelona a run for its money, doesn't it.  They agreed.

Fast Food Duck
I have always tried to find something new in every day -- and after so many years of practise, the task gets easier and easier. I saw it here -- my first look at a duck fast food joint.

Colourful enough.

On reflection, I should have gone in and ordered some food.  Fast food duck!  Would have been fun even if I hadn't have eaten it.

How much weight can my luggage carry?
I wanted one of these folding baskets from this street merchant.

I could imagine the fun of serving bread in it to my guests and how amazed they would be when they saw it collapse.

Moiya had already figured out how many hours it would take her to make one with her jig-saw, which made buying one doubly attractive.

Wyona was half way through negotiating the best price for three of them, when she, at least, figured out that we were already tossing out precious rocks and shells we had collected because we were overweight with out luggage and there is only so much that will fit in our pockets.

Waah!

Arta

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Tourist Photography


 ... out of bus window on the way to Vaikom, India ...
The fact that I can take my handheld camera, sit on a bus and out of the window, photograph the world as it is going by means a lot to me.


I take pictures and have them run on my desktop; every ten second they change.


... bicycle parts and frame ...
 ... on the back of man walking down the street ...
I run my trip over and over again, often wondering, “Did I really see that?"

But here it is on my screen.”






I am pretty well aware that the pictures are only invested with meaning for me, but what a delicious way to bring back images that are fading so quickly for me.

The color is there, that moment when I was amazed to see this comes back, and I get to study the background which I probably didn’t see at all when I took the picture.

I learned how to do bad photography when I was with Wyona on the 16-day train trip up and down the coast of England, Wales and Scotland.


... woman preparing food on the other side of the stream ...




















Now I have been doing it on bus excursions, and find myself studying the people who walk along the streets when the bus stops at red lights.

I try to capture a traffic jam, the sunset, small markets along the street, colourful bill boards, trying to figure out if their images are commercial or political.

When we were in Viakom, I noticed that when I took a picture, if there was a child in it, they wanted to come over and see themselves.

When I saw a woman weaving a mat I had to capture her toes, holding the reeds firmly to the ground. I saw a woman at the side of a stream, preparing food.

She was cutting the tops and the bottoms of vegetables, or little fish, I couldn’t tell which.

I wanted one of the small metal rings a man was making and I seemed to need two of the simple nesting baskets a woman sat cross-legged. I have no idea why I send Wyona off to do my bargaining.

She is fast.
... weaving a mat ...

A look from me to her, telling her I want that, and she will change directions and go do the negotiating.

Her method seems to be to find a guide close by and have him be the go-between – how much does she want for one basket?

How much does she want for two baskets?

 ... Wyona having purchased baskets ...
... the chain of flowers  on her neck smells like gardenias ...
... note the red decoration on her forehead ...
 
















If she can’t find someone who can do that, she goes right to the merchant and somehow it is possible for her to make trades of money and goods without knowing much language.

Fun.

Arta

Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Local Bread Confection of Kuala Lumpur

After our tour of Kuala Lumpur's Little India, and back at the elegant market, we had ten minutes to get to our bus coach.

Moiya and Wyona had ringgit that was unspent.

Both of them know how to move the last few dollars out of their purses and pockets and into the local economy.

The women pool their money to see how much must be spent.
They buy carbonated beverages to take onto the boat, a soft ice-cream cone for all and with the money left Wyona and Moiya begin to pick pastries out of glass display cabinets, asking the clerk to wrap them separately so they don’t get squished.

Afterall, when we were dropped off we were told to go have lunch, but food was not anywhere on our agenda.

Now there would be a 1 and ½ hour ride back to the boat and time to eat. 
I am hungry and snap pictures of food I wish I could eat.
I don't buy. 
If I take the time to figure out the conversion on the ringgit,
I won't have time to take pictures.

 Two women picking out food is enough.

I idly take my camera and try to catch the look of the small bakery.


Fast lunch ... or would that be fast dessert
Once onboard, Wyona distributes the food among us.

I am a few isles away.

The nicest looking pastry of all is handed to me – one with a popsicle stick in it.

 I am sitting by the boat photographer, since I am always alone on the buses and when the seat is taken, it is often by some of the people who work on the boat and who are allowed to accompany the excursion.

I turn to her and say, please have some.

Which would you like?  One lightly dusted with icing sugar
  Or the chocolate icing with candy sprinkles
"Oh no," she counters.

She is sitting there soaking wet, having been caught in the 4 pm Malaysian downpour.  I brought my umbrella for the occasion, but left it in the bus, so I didn't have to carry it all day. Because I am "old" the bus driver lends me an umbrella so I won't get wet.

"Well, I can hardly eat it all.  Just take a bit.  I haven't touched it and you will get to see what the local pastries taste like."

She takes a piece and we take our first bite together but do not chew.

She turns wide-eyed to look at me and says nothing.

I spotted that fancy stick in the pastry and 
wondered if Wyona and Moiya would buy it.
Note the attractive covering on the bun, upper right corner.
I am horrified and burst out laughing, saying, “I think that this feathery lacy toasted coating is dried translucent fish and not cocoanut. Be my guest and take it back out of your mouth.”

Then I turn to the tour guide who is now handing out key chains of the Petronus Towers to everyone. She has come to give us ours.

“Could you tell me the name of this pastry.”

She gives me the name of the pastry, tells me it is a local trademark of Kuala Lumpur, confirms that the coating is dried fish and continues down the isle.

“Congratulations,” says the young ship photographer to me. “You got me to do something my mother couldn’t get me to do growing up in England. Eat fish.”

She puts her piece in our garbage bag.

 I continue to eat mine.

“Don’t do it. Don’t do it," she says.

I am compelled to. At each bite I am trying to figure out what it is that people like about these 3 flat rings with a stick through them, and finished off with dried fish. The sweetness of the bun reminds me of pork buns in China town. I taste the brown sticky topping that holds the fish flakes to the pastry: soy sauce.

Later that evening I go up to the Photography Studio to pick up some pictures from a prize I won on the boat. She is there arranging the shots: 8 1/2 by 12's  --  one from each of the 3 formal dining nights, taken from the gang plank as people go ashore, from informal sittings – all posted in the open for people to see.

I know she is working.  I go up to her and say quietly behind her back, “Fish breath.”

She turns to me and says in an equally quiet voice, "I told all of my friends about you at dinner and that you continued to eat the bun, even after knowing what it was. They know who you are.”

She is right.  They do know who I am.  That is for another story.

Arta

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Life in Vaikom

We had two tours in India. The first one was sponsored by the ship for Captain’s Club Members and those travelling with them. That is how Moiya, Dave and I spent our first day in Cochin. The evening ended with a show at a hotel. The sun was setting over the sea, chairs were set up on the hotel lawn, and before the show, proper, there was a demonstration about how emotion is interpreted through dance. When Moiya and I try to go back to that first day in India, we keep listing how much happened in that day. How could we have seen the Chinese fishing nets, the murals that capture the myths of the Indian gods, shopped on Jew Street, and kept our noses on the coach window as we saw India pass by us, block after block.

The next day we were signed up to see rural India. The catalogue description of the trip was short. “Located in the district of Kottayam, Vaikom is one of the oldest villages in Kerala and is a fine representation of rural life in Kerala. During your visit you will be able to walk through and see what life is like here on a typical day.” We had no idea that the following would happen. We were loaded into tuk-tuks that took us down the narrow roads and into the village. Ropes of flowers were hung around our necks, the smell of which I didn’t really process until I arrived back in the ship and was going up the elevator. “Oh, I had no idea of the smell of these flowers, until I got into this elevator,” I apologized to the other occupants who were riding up the shaft with me. “Don’t worry – it is fantastic – like gardenias,” they said. By that time the red mark that had been put on my forehead was smudged and I was looking for some quiet time to process an amazing day. I don’t know how to describe the feeling of returning back to the ship. Much of the time in the village I had been on the cusp of a good cry, but not the one that comes from sorrow. This emotion was wrapped up in the wonder of the village. I watched women weaving mats from reeds, their hands working deftly and their toes anchoring their work to the ground while they thatched the material that slipped up and down through their fingers. An old woman was weaving baskets. We watched, left to go see something else and I said to Wyona, I want to buy one of those baskets. Wyona slipped into her merchant mode, grabbed me, and then one of the tour guides who was standing idly by the side of the stream and asked him to find out how much for a basket. There was some price negotiations, and the purchase was finalized. Wyona wore the baskets on her head for a while. They will be my most treasured souvenir. Across a creek, a woman stood on some stairs by a canal, cutting her vegetables for dinner. Another woman, seeing my interest, paused to take the large pot off of her head and show me the fish she had caught, small ones – maybe 50 or so of them. I watched Wyona and Moiya play with the children who walked alongside the group – the boys wanting to know people’s names and where they were from. While other tourists were snapping pictures of houses, or of a woman making medicinal powder from bettle nuts, Wyona was snapping pictures little boys’s faces, and asking them where the little girls were. Did the village only have boys, she asked? I loved seeing the laundry on the lines, ducking under ropes or slipping around a tree to see the cocoanut husks shredded by a woman making rope. Clay pots were being thrown. The wheel was manually operated by another woman who sat cross legged on the ground, making sure it kept moving by rotating it with her hands. Three days and the pot would be dry. No need for a kiln. The weather was perfect. I could hear the birds in the trees. The jungle smells were delicious, new to me – perhaps the reason I missed the fragrance of the flowers I was wearing until I got back home. I have some lovely pictures, which I will post when I get more internet time. The boat is perfect in all ways, except concerning the speed with which I can send pictures up to a blog. Arta