New Wanderings. Part 3, Tracing Backwards. Last Stop Paris.


Actually last stop Hong Kong but that was only in transit and does not count. Except that I bought a bottle of booze and Tiger Balm, as you do. It is important for travellers transiting through HK not to buy their duty free alcohol from their starting point. HK customs will confiscate it. I almost bought some at CDG airport when the salesman advised me not to. There was this corporate/bureaucratic looking guy who had three bottles of very expensive Chivas etc taken off him while I sailed through customs. Small travel tip from moi.

So. I took the train from Strasbourg station to Charles De Gaulle airport. The last time I went to Paris I traversed the city on the metro but my dream of doing cross country via Eurail just did not materialise. This time it happened via the itinerary and there was not much time to think or take photos. We drove from Gerstheim and just about managed to get to the station on time with an irate steward waiting for me. (He gave me a mini lecture in ze marvellous French accented l’Anglais ;-) about almost missing the train.)  The Alsace trains are an entity of their own with painted carriages that trundle along the French countryside, quite majestic. I dozed off.

Two hours later I was inside Charles De Gaulle airport, an absolute behemoth.

The train station at Charles De Gaulle airport, like, two levels down.

The train station at Charles De Gaulle airport, like, two levels down.

I checked in and took the RER metro straight to Saint Michel. With five hours to spend on my own I thought it might be worth revisiting Paris. Had I missed the romance in this so called romantic city the last time I was there or is it just a myth like I thought?

The train ride was fascinating, just as I remembered it. Dingy little trains squeaking over the tracks, regurgitating commuters on to dark stations. If a cross section of train commuters can be a representation of a local populace then Paree is nowhere as haute and white as projected by and emphasised by global lore. Predominantly African peoples packed the train and the stations. The poverty obvious. None of the European countries have a comprehensive programme for refugees and migrants, especially poor, illiterate migrants, all of whom are left to fend for themselves and become French/German/Italian/whatever. Consequently ghettoised, ostracised and blamed for all evils. Integration is a two way street.  As I observed through the train, the housing dregs (how some buildings remained standing was a mystery), graffiti and the urban deterioration seemed like a symbol of the inability of the Western world to deal with post colonial globalisation.

Paris was hot that day. It had been a very warm fortnight late spring. After the lush, laid back surroundings of Alsace the heat and grime of Paris wore me down. I was carrying my merino jacket and a backpack full of winter layering for when I got back to New Zealand. Apart from the laptop and camera. (Ah first world tourist issues!) And Notre Dame was chocker with tourists. As if the whole world, mostly Americans, had turned up at the same time. I hung around, took photos, observing this congregation. There were the local Arabs, handsome boys dancing for an appreciative audience, charming the Americans with their French (I seriously doubt if even one American might have thought these boys were Ay-raabs, not that I am assuming it is from ignorance.) Then, as I went for a walk along the Seine, a couple behind me started having a lover’s tiff. They went on and on, I tried not to listen but they were quarrelling in English! C’est romantique oui? They should have tied a lock on one of the overbridges and thrown the key into the Seine. Only 5 Euros to end the row et je t’aime mon amour.

Then there were the Indians. It was nice. An indicator of disposable income, of increasing confidence in the ability to travel and spend. Never mind the awkwardness that generates or the discomfort of encountering a new culture beyond the ideas propagated by Bollywood . Family groups, mummy, pappa, munna, munni, aunty, uncle, and their munnas and munnis. Hanging by Notre Dame, gaping at the cuddling couples along the embankment, calculating Euros v/s rupees. A daughter was lecturing her mother on why they travelled to Paris. Did you come to complain or to see the Eiffel Tower? In Gujarati. The beauty of it, for me, is that I am this non-specific person few can locate so they don’t know that I can understand them. There is the occasional suspicious glance from other Indians but I appear too hippie to fit into any aspirational, upwardly mobile Indian mould.

Second time around in Paris and I know the romance is imaginary, an extrapolation of the need to perpetuate the homogeneity and singularity of a French identity. Some sort of cultural crutch. A narrow notion for an incredibly diverse city; squalid outer suburbs, inner city Dior and high culture including. And the French should know that already.

Thus I took the train back to CDG airport.

PS-The Bangladeshis are still selling roses in Paris.

 

 

 

 

New Wanderings. Part 2, Amazing Things That Happen


Amazing things that happen when you travel. A golden sunset over the French countryside turns it into a dreamlike landscape. The green of the trees and the grass reflecting multiple hues of this universe. Seems unreal.

Two days ago, back in Strasbourg, I had to pass some time as I waited for my ride back to Gerstheim. I had noticed an art house theatre near Homme De Fer, the big tram station, whenever I was in that part of Strasbourg and since that day too I was browsing through the shops around I thought it might be a good idea to watch a movie. I inquired at the box office, are you showing any movies with English subtitles. Non, she said, but we have a movie in L’Anglais. (Or so I deduced from her French.) Well then, may I have a ticket please.

I had no idea what the title meant. It was time to be surprised. And that I was. I spent one of the most magical one hour and fifty minutes watching a classic in one of the most beautiful art house cinemas I have ever seen.

Cinema L’Odyssée was built in 1914. It is owned by the city of Strasbourg who outsources the operations to private enterprise. It must have been grand in the old days and still has that air about it. Red velvet seats, carvings on the wall, an old projector, old film posters hung nonchalantly, and art house films. A real hang out place for snooty French cinema geeks discussing auteur cinema. There is an underground library dedicated to cinema and you can buy film posters. To me this was paradise, one version of it anyway.

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And then the film I watched, that I came upon by chance. Who knew. Grand Prix Special du Jury and FIPRESCI Award at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. Johnny Got His Gun is a brilliant watch. Donald Sutherland plays Jesus Christ and is so cool :-)

But another amazing experience awaited me. Reiterating the vast and myriad connections of humanity and culture.

As I entered the gates to the grounds of the Strasbourg mosque (see my photos here), two men and a young woman stepped out. My friend asked in French if we could go in and they welcomed us. Somehow the conversation continued in English, they asked me where I am from. I always say New Zealand but this time, I think it was their brown skin that made me do it, I said I am originally from India. One man started talking to me in Hindi. Namaste, kaise ho? The other said, ah Shammi Kapoor. I said, yeah. He died last year. The man replied that he was visiting London that time when he came to know. Then he broke into a song. Dil deke dekho, dil deke dekho, dil deke dekho jiyu to humne lakh haseen dekhe hai, (I joined in here) tumsa nahi dekha, ho tumsa nahi dekha. We all laughed, hi-fived and went our way. Strange how human beings connect. Not strange that commercial Hindi cinema, before it was exoticised by the Western world and became Bollywood, had a massive audience from North Africa, the Middle East and South East Asia, even old Soviet Russia. This man was from Morocco. The young girl with them was amazed at the conversation. My young friend Laura, a local and Alsace, was amused. Just before that I had been telling her that she should persuade her teachers at Strasbourg University where she is doing film studies, to include Indian cinema in the course. :-)

 

 

Once More, New Wanderings. Part 1, Tokyo.


Someone once said, you can’t keep a wanderer from wandering, or something like that. I started planning my next travels even as I was swimming in the warm Pacific waters in Savai’i, Samoa. Which part of the world calls me, I meditated. Japan or South Korea were on my list and May seemed like a good time. Just before the non-stop, tiring days of winter when my appointment diary is full at least a week in advance. I enjoy visiting Asia, any part of Asia. It is home and yet I am an outsider, and I like that feeling. So that was a no-brainer. Until my friend Stephanie called. We met in New Zealand but she is from France and when she went back she would call me randomly on weekends because from France you can call any part of the world and talk for up to three hours, for free! So one Sunday morning, Stephanie called to chat and nek minnit I booked my ticket to France. But you have to go through Asia en route to Europe. Air New Zealand has a direct flight from Auckland to Tokyo and so I had at least ten hours before my next flight to Amsterdam.

The Tokyo of my imagination was a high tech city. Flash, futuristic, hyper-urbanised. It is all of that and more. It is old, cranky, creaky and unique.

A friend’s brother, a South Asian from Auckland who now lives and runs a business from Chiba, picked me up at Narita airport and drove us into Tokyo. The plan was to hang out and get a teaser of this great city, sleepover at his house and take the train back to Narita airport next morning.

My first lesson in local history-Narita airport was built on agricultural land where the farmers were forced off by the Japanese government. More than forty years later, the protests and resistance continues. I love such stories. It reinforces in my mind and heart that progress and development as we are taught do not happen as a consequence of ‘modernity’ but on the backs of human beings that are sucked into the vacuum of eroded history. How do nations and their polity plan their movement forward without considering the consequences? Mostly it is a momentary achievement for the capitalists who lobbied for it and make their money.

So we went towards Akihabara over the various highways paying toll along the way. This is the electronic district of Tokyo. There are fancy shops, little holes in the wall packed with all kinds of electronics and SEGA video game parlours. It is really old-fashioned. We parked the car near the station and took the train to Harajuku.

There was a gaggle of girls outside GAP in Harajuku. I suppose they were waiting for a celebrity to show up? There were onlookers looking at the crowd and then there was us, looking at the onlookers looking at the girls. :-) A fancy popcorn shop had a long queue just to buy popcorn and young men and women browsed through a very eighties style, garish shopping centre that has mostly local brands displaying wares in an unusual way. It is a mixture between kawaii and classic European. At the main crossing were three head banging youth and others holding up posters that said ‘Free English’. Ah, protesters, I thought. They want free English lessons from the government? Nein, nicht, no! They were evangelising rockers from a church called Free English!  And right across the road was a shop called Condomania :-)

Evangelising rockers

Evangelising rockers

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Dinner was sushi at a place where you can order the food via an electronic board and pick up bits from a train. I love sushi and this one was as yummy as it gets. There are restaurants on every street. Harajuku has at least three Italian restaurants within a diameter of one kilometre and for every Ramen noodle joint there is a McDonald’s.

By the time we walked to Shibuya the shops were closing and people were either going into clubs or seemed to be going home. The main crossing outside Shibuya station is a large scale demonstration of Barnes Dance and as we waited to let the surge of humanity pass us we came face to face with a South Asian threesome, one woman holding hands with two men. They stopped short, as if shocked to see fellow ethnics and their expression changed to ‘wanna-join-us?’ before they were pushed on by other pedestrians. ;-) Then there were the African-American dudes checking out the Asian girls and trying to guess who was Japanese and who was Korean. But mostly they are Japanese. From school girls in their knee length socks and mini skirts to middle aged office workers in their black suits. As if staying out so late at night before a hard day’s work next morning was just what they do.

You could tell the office workers coming out of the little restaurants, the men tanked up with saké, staggering on the streets with drunken stupor; the women still demure, or so it seemed to me. I don’t socialise with my work mates because I don’t want to see them outside of work but I suppose that is the reality for many people or how else can human beings interact in a fast paced existence that has ‘non-traditional’ social structures?

The unique Japanese fashion sense is visible everywhere. That Japanese women have different take on Western clothes, sui generis, is obvious, if you care to know, and I have been a fan and follower for a long time. Japanese men too dress like none other. Not only is there the genre of the pretty Asian, metrosexual male but the middle aged suits too, in their samurai testosterone mode, I noticed, were carrying female office bags. Yes, not man bags but feminine bags. An almost imperceptible shift of gender symbols. The Japanese wear haute couture and designer accessories casually without seeming aspirational like the Indians and Chinese.

The train rides on the Tokyo Metro were the highlight for me though. I love trains, I love train stations. And this metro is better than the London Underground or the Paris Metro. The trains are not fancy and the stations and bridges are old. Everything is clean or someone is cleaning it. But then the Japanese are inherently polite, patient, quiet and orderly (I say at the risk of stereotyping), so that makes the difference?

Once more in my eternal quest for place I discovered I could easily live in Tokyo. It is Asia but I don’t have to belong, multiculti, transculti, polyculti that I am. And that is the joy. Only wonder what I would do for a living.

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Be The Change


Recently I had a bit of a harangue on a closed forum on Facebook about facing racist attitudes everyday, all the time and how identifying someone with their religion or ethnicity as a lead in to a story reduces the person to a singular thing. Yet. I know, as any other diasporic non-white ethnic, that stereotypes can be positive too. It is how we negotiate that within ourselves and project it to the rest of the world that matters. I have pointed out many times how government created agencies that work to supposedly perpetuate and empower ethnic communities only maintain the hierarchy via food, dance, exotica, otherness and getting white people to tell us what we are. Or do research that does not mean anything to us. One moment Asians are well perceived by mainstream and the next moment not. This ‘they-love-Asians’ report and this ‘they-actually-know-very-little-about-Asians’ very clearly show what a waste time the Diwali and Lantern Festivals have been. But this is not another rant about Asia:NZ Foundation. ;-) Done plenty of those here, here and here. On the other hand I keep looking for whether and how this daily negotiation is expressed to the world. That fine balance between being a tax paying model minority and cheap labourers who are bad drivers. How the world perceives the Asian diaspora is up to us, how we project ourselves. The answer is within the community. So when a group of young professionals like Future Dragonz decide to have an event  it is, like, hallelujah.

 

 

Young Chinese professionals, on the face of it, would be the classic model minority stereotype. Highly qualified lawyers, accountants, engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs…I know ‘coz I’ve hung out with them, I was at the launch in 2010.   Then why would they bother to challenge that? It is good to be a highly qualified professional. Because it does not mean the stereotype of the bad driver will go away! Because it does not mean jobs will be be easy to find! Because it does not mean the artists and the creatives will be recognised! 

This particular event was inspired by a discussion at the Museum Of Chinese in America The Yin And Yang Of Contemporary Asian American Culture. While this discussion was on a larger scale because America is larger than New Zealand, the topic has global resonance. I don’t really want to go on and on about it.

Contemporary diasporic existence, whether they are fourth-fifth generation Asian or recently migrated in global, transnational times, is different from those gold miners, rail gang, fruit shop, potato farmer images that the Western world still harbours. Or even the pictures from the native country. Diasporic lives encompass multiple identities that move and switch easily from one to another, being Asian, being Kiwi and all in between. We can play on being the other and yet not. Very easy to do so but we also need to and should have critical discourse that we drive. That is the only way because we know that we are the change! It is of interest to me, never mind I am Indian. One of my identities is a global, transnational, diasporic citizen.

Detox your soul


drsapna:

Raga is one tough lady with a lot to teach the world. This post says it all. Just good physical health is not enough if issues if the mind and soul remain unaddressed. One does not need fancy techniques, visualisation, New Age guru bullshit or reading pseudoscience that makes it obtuse. Give yourself a moment or two every day, connect to the universe, stop to smell a flower and slowly the soul will start cleansing itself. Actually Raga says it better than I can.

Originally posted on Raga D'silva:

I have often participated in ‘short term‘ solutions through my life.  If I had too much to eat, I would detox through abstinence from certain food for a period of time, popularly called ‘fasting‘. If I had too much to drink, then I would detox using liver cleansing methods.

I worried about my body, as most people do.  I buried my pain, my issues internally.  I looked for comfort through over-eating, drinking and dysfunctional company.

Through my current journey, I realised that much of the short-term solution is simply about short-term gain.  The cycle of gaining weight or being unwell periodically was simply a symptom of this.

When I looked deep within, I came to a very tough realisation. I had lost  contact with my inner-self.  I had to find me! When I finally started the dialogue with myself, I found many demons –  some born with me…

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Mindy Kaling isn’t Responsible for Being Your Diversity Councillor

This discussion does not apply if you have not seen The Mindy Project. The discomfort that I felt therein but convinced myself that at least it is helmed by Mindy Kaling, smart as woman.

The same sort of discussion one can have about the character of Rajesh Kuthrapalli in The Big Bang Theory. Does it make me uncomfortable that his Indianness can be the butt of jokes or that every character is given equal treatment in that sense. So if Sheldon’s social inadequacies are the source of much amusement, why not Raj’s inability to pick up women?

I know that it is a hard balancing act. Getting gigs to write, to produce, commercial considerations and being a person of colour who has fought and fought to even to be there. Diversity? Representation? Or keeping the job and getting more?

When I produced for Radio New Zealand I had to be very mindful of not making all my work about ‘ethnics’ but all New Zealanders. That I am Indian and speak in a strange Indo-Kiwi-down-with-the-bros accent was enough ‘representation’. That I could do mainstream stories without anyone questioning their legitimacy AND could then go on to tell a story about Muslim women, which no one dare question. I was lucky.

But when it came to producing an independent gig it had to be about Asians. I mean, I could not do the blokey New Zealand humour and get funding could I? The trick then was to bring a huge dose of irreverence. (Hail Jon Stewart!) The Asian Radio Show was on air from 2008-2012. I was lucky.

So I feel for Mindy yet I know what the ladies are talking about in this post from Neelika Jayawardane. The thing for Mindy Lahiri now is to have a East Asian nerdy boyfriend and for him to dump her because she is too frivolous. Yeah even if she and Danny have kissed as we knew they would from the first episode.

Dreams Don’t Have Labels Of Caste And Religion – Nagraj Manjule reminsces about his life and ‘Fandry’


drsapna:

The resurgence of Marathi cinema makes me immensely proud in a way that I cannot explain. I am the last person in the world, I would like to think, who believes in ideas such as patriotism and nationalism thus by default, parochialism. Growing up in Girgaum, Bombay, watching Marathi theatre ranging from sangeet natak (musicals) to Vijay Tendulkar‘s masterpieces, old arthouse cinema (Jabbar Patel in particular) as well as the madness of Dada Kondke, knowing inherently that a Maharashtrian audience receives and consumes visual performing arts in a different way, I could not understand why it was limited in its outreach. Or why it faded away.

Now I do and so I feel happy to see the renaissance. From the inane commercial to global cinema it is an amazing spectrum. Then we have artists like Nagraj Manjule whose life experience will always make for brilliant storytelling. I watched this trailer of Fandry and wanted to see the film, I wanted to cry, to feel angry, frustrated, come out of the theatre pumped up to change the world. This film will never release in New Zealand but I imagine myself doing all the above anyway. Nagraj has nothing new to say yet it needs to be told over and over to sensitize us. So thank you Nagraj. Here is to more path breaking stories via Marathi cinema.

Originally posted on F.i.g.h.t C.l.u.b:

Since the time we saw Nagraj Manjule’s debut feature ‘Fandry’, we have been shouting out from rooftop that it’s a terrific debut and a must watch. Click here to read our recco post. This week, Fandry is releasing outside Maharashtra, and with English subtites.

The show details – Date: February 28 to March 6

Delhi NCR
PVR MGF Mall 9:10 PM
DT Cinemas Vasant Kunj: 3: 30 PM

Indore
PVR Indore 5:00 PM

After the film’s release and the acclaim it got all over, Nagraj wrote a piece for Maharashtra Times. Much thanks to @GoanSufi who came up with the idea to translate it in English for wider reach, took the permission, and did it for us. Do watch the film if you haven’t seen it yet. And then read it.

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Remembering   Fandry

Now that Fandry has released, I’m reminiscing about all those incidents that are linked with it. These…

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On The Intentional Circus Of The Mistress.


I tried not to say anything about the Bevan Chuang circus for a long time. People have affairs, even politicians and wannabes; affairs are made public and opponents make political gain, or not. Life goes on.

But not when the wannabe is Bevan Chuang. Every time she has opened her mouth after she first revealed all on Whale Oil, she has dumped a load of excreta on the public. First it was pictures without makeup, looking sad, saying things to Lincoln Tan, appealing to his lazy journalism (more on that later), then this interview for Metro, being the Asian princess-concubine, another interview for Radio Live declaring her intentions to save us ethnics from our political apathy. I ignored it all. Why give more publicity when middle aged white men (and a Singaporean) are working for the cause?

The final straw on my ‘apathetic ethnic back’ was Bevan’s intention to re-apply for Auckland Council’s ethnic advisory panel. I am Asian, a woman and very engaged with democracy and politics. Do I need a Bevan Chuang to represent me? Even though I do not live in Auckland any more, the idea of her being on the panel and using it to get on a national platform, with drooling white men pandering, desiring, their pants about to burst yet they dare not, is repulsive.

There is nothing wrong in being ambitious, there is nothing wrong in being sexual but when that becomes the only tool for social/political climbing, making claims to represent ethnic communities, then it is time to say enough.

Did she do anything for the ethnic communities while she was on the panel? Nothing. I challenge Camille Nakhid and Bevan herself to show concrete proof of the work she did. Apart from posting on Facebook, tweeting, sending out group emails, helping organise a few events and floating around flirtatiously there is zilch to show. I once questioned Bevan for attending a conference organised by Hindu fundamentalists and she had no clue what that was. How can anyone claiming to represent migrants show such ignorance? Would one not do due diligence about the event, who these people are, what the community is up to etc? How is she going to lobby for the ethnic communities on a local level and what is she going to say? L’affaire Brown might have proved her political naivety and lack of nous to the mainstream but us ethnics have known that for a long time. We just don’t say it. Only Renee Liang wrote about the story but she extrapolated it to an imagined experience rather than discuss ethnic representation which was/is the main issue. If Bevan was not on the ethnic advisory board and still had this affair, no one would care.

Auckland Council has called for applications from potential panellists. These panels have a two-point vague agenda about advising the council. Applicants need to have governance experience but is there a constitution for these panels? An outline? What happens if the council has to get rid of a panellist? What if someone passes or has to leave? Is there a strategy for such exits and reappointments? Will the minutes of these meetings be published for the communities to know what their representative panel is up to? It is time to make the process transparent. Let us know who applied, put up their resumes online, who is on the selection panel, and how the panellists fulfil the selection criteria. Surely that is an appropriate demand from an ignorant ethnic? And it will cost less than $250,000 ja?

Bevan would fail the criteria. Broad perspective, critical and strategic thinking, judgement, politics… Yet, she wants to apply. She is scared Len will reject her but she not scared of what the ethnic communities think of her ability to represent! It is not just the conservative elements that question this.

Lazy journalist that Lincoln Tan is, his ‘news’ article in the Herald subtly pushes Bevan to the public and has Camille Nakhid endorsing her. Did he ask the other panellists what they think? Asoka Basnayake was their media spokesperson, did he get a statement from her? When did he last do a balanced piece, especially related to Bevan? From the story about the dragon baby to trying to generate sympathy for a makeup less Bevan, this is a mutually useful relationship that does disservice to the ethnic communities. Not that the ethnics trust him you know, with so many stories bordering on sensationalism and always quoting either Paul Spoonley or Bevan Chuang. (Go do a general analysis of his work.)

It is time for the ethnic communities to speak up. It is time for the Chinese community to say whether they really want Bevan representing them (because who else can she purport to represent?). There are other young, worthy Chinese Aucklanders who will actually do the job and do it very well.

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Yoga? Heavyset and Black Women Need Not Apply

Yoga and the Western world. Yoga in the Western world. Yoga for the Western world. Yoga comes from the Western world. Know what I mean? These last two weeks there are has been an online storm about yoga and appropriation, especially by skinny white women. This post ‘It Happened To Me’ brings to the fore how removed yoga is from its Indian roots except for the use of Sanskrit words and concepts of mindfulness that suit the ideas of existence within these parameters only. Attend a yoga session with someone who cannot pronounce the Sanskrit words, who talks of being in the moment and does it all slowly and deliberately, and then you will know. It cracked me up. I really don’t need white people telling me about my culture and practices the same way I don’t need bearded patriarchal self-styled gurus turning yoga into a mystical art. To me, yoga is about self awareness and practicing it as a way of life. But when someone from a privileged existence turns it into a race issue and body issue, and hence political, that becomes a matter for discourse.

Neelika Jayawardane analyses it well in her post linked at the top of the page.

Now for an academic analysis.