Category Archives: A humorous life

The transit-land twilight zone

  

There’s nothing quite like arriving at a strange airport in the middle of the night in a sleep-deprived, feeling grimy and suspecting yourself of dragon breath, with hours to spend ‘amusing yourself’. 

Once, on a 4 or 5 hour stopover in Singapore’s Changi airport, I explored every arm of the connected terminals, under the premise that hours spent sitting on planes, being force fed at regular intervals, calls for some serious walking. I can’t abide getting off a long flight, only to sit again in a gate lounge for hours. I can tell you that most of the shops in Singapore’s airport are replicated in each wing, although one particular wing had a less-than-pleasant distinctly moulds odour – perhaps a result of the extremely humid climate? This may have been seen to since. Changi airport certainly has the advantage of the distractions of the butterfly, cacti and orchid garden areas, which are dotted throughout the airport. These provide a welcome immersion in nature in the midst of an otherwise sterile environment. On one trip I got addicted to the leg massage chairs that do squeeze uncomfortably tightly around your calves, leading you to wonder what would happen if the chair malfunctioned and you got stuck in its vice-like circulation-restricting grip. I’m always happy to transit in Singapore to get the opportunity to visit two favorite shops that aren’t in Australia: Madame Butterfly, which sells Asian jade and other jewellery, including cloisonné jewellery, bags and other gift wares, and Spanish brand shop Desigual, which has funky, brightly colored clothes and bags. People tell me the facilities at Changi’s in-airport ‘transit hotel’ are worth it: beds, movie theaters and more, but I’ve never tried this out. 

Last time I came through Bangkok airport, I indulged in a shoulder massage from the massage/spa place, which whiled away some time in a relaxed fashion. This time I discovered just how many different flavours of Durian lollies and wafers are available for purchase (although I didn’t indulge in any). All sorts of sliced (fresh?) fruits and coconuts could be purchased, but I have to admit to succumbing to Bangkok’s version of Burger King – as a vegetarian, it the first time I’ve ever come across a burger with a double vegetable pattie! The airport pharmacy sold very handy small toothbrushes with herbal tooth paste in miniature zip lock bags, which I purchased as a gesture to my fellow passengers on the next leg of my journey. However as it happened, I was seated in a row with two empty seats beside me, so no one else was able to enjoy my newly Thai-herbally-freshened breath. 

You could say being in transit is travel’s purgatory: the nowhere land between one state and the next. If you’re going to spend time in transit, I do recommend spending it where there are bounteous orchid blooms brightening the extended waiting-room experience. 

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Tales of vegetarian travel

Aesthetically pleasing vegetarian meali was at a party recently and I found myself in a conversation with two other vegetarians where we shared our vegetarian travel stories and general experiences of eating out as a vegetarian.

As I launch back into the world of airline food and foreign travel, it brings back many vegetarian-specific moments. There was that time in Rome: I think it was the first meal I’d ever tried to order there and we were at the art gallery. With my extremely minimal knowledge of the local language, I was convinced I’d ordered a vegetarian pizza. However what eventually appeared was an entirely tuna-laden pizza creation. It was so hot and the wait for the foot was long and I might easily have mixed up the word for some vegetable with the word for tuna. So, whether it was the waitress’ mistake or mine, I decided to grit my teeth and force feed myself. Even if I did eat meat, I think that’s the last time I’d ever order a fishy pizza – it reminds me too much of the children cheekily ordering sardine ice cream in The Faraway Tree. I’m afraid the names tuna, salmon and sardines are mainly associated with cat food in my mind. In Japan I learnt to say I was vegetarian and so avoid being served red meat, however seafood did not seem to fall into the meat category there. Many a vegetarian meal was filled with fish cakes that I had fun times trying to catch with chopsticks and eject from my meal, and topped off with a sprinkling of all-pervasive fish flakes that could never be eradicated.  Probably the three countries where I struggled most as a vegetarian were France, Germany and Japan. In Japan the group I was with did the early morning Tsukiji Fish Market excursion to see the tuna auction & all the weird and wonderful ‘fruit of the sea’. Afterwards we were given two choices for breakfast: seafood restaurant or McDonalds! I definitely didn’t go to Japan to eat fast food, but that was my only vegetarian option (and I can’t deny a penchant for hot cakes on ocassion). 

In France I think it was agreed that I was insulting the national cuisine and I remember being given, somewhat distainfully, s plate of beetroot and carrot while others were eating garlic snails. In Germany I struggled to stay vegetarian and avoid diabetes, living for three weeks on a diet consisting almost entirely of cake, coffee, cheese and potatoes, with the ocassional sour kraut or boiled broccoli. I have to say the most nutritious meals I had there were I think Italian and Mexican…

Vegetarian heaven was a couple of temple food restaurants in Seoul’s Insadong district, where acres of bowls of different vegetables all cooked to preserve individual flavours greeted us, and Korean meals always come with veggie side dishes at least. Filling up on buffet breakfast is sometimes your best vegetarian move, Danish cheeses and salad breakfasts come to mind, along with Thai fresh fruit spreads. 

Vegetarian meals on flights are an interesting prospect: if there is one thing non-veggies often leave out of veg meals (apart from the obvious one: meat), it’s protein. Pasta with red sauce and sporadic zucchini cubes is not high in protein… Then there is the choice of whether to say you want ‘Ovo-lacto’, ‘Asian vegetarian’, ‘western vegetarian’ or some other combo. Sometimes I’m disappointed when someone obviously equated vegetarian with ultra-healthy and gave me fruit cubes, while all the meat eaters got lemon cheese cake! 

In China, they taught me how to say I was vegetarian, but warned me that if you get the tones wrong, you can end up saying ‘I eat trees’. If there’s one thing about being a vegetarian, it certainly makes travel interesting! 

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The humour of scale

Round-topped window with people figurines looking out, Regensburg, Germany

Sometimes things in our lives take on way too much significance and skew our focus. Photography reminds me again about the tricks scale and perspective can play. May these demure and decidedly un-demure figurines in a window in Regensburg, Germany remind us all that sometimes a scale check helps us put things back into a healthy perspective. And if that’s too deep for you at this time of night (or day) – I hope you can have a laugh instead. After a frenzied evening of blogging activity, I bid you all goodnight!

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Conversation and precious laughter

Smiley faces

I’m not the friend who peppers the conversation with quotes from movies. I’m the one who usually stares blankly when everyone else is laughing at a quote from The Simpsons or Family Guy, unless it’s a smack-you-in-the-face famous quote for dummies like ‘I’ll be baaaaack’. So, despite being a literature-oriented person, I don’t remember quotes, and I don’t remember conversations very well either. Biographies full of dialogue baffle me – did they really remember whole conversations, or did they just make it up based on the theme? So I don’t remember the details, but I am left with vignettes – emotionally imbued settings in which significant times were had.

Picture a dormitory style campsite on a hill above the sea. A site set on grass so green due to constant rain. Communal bathrooms with cold concrete floors and the usual collection of toilet cubicles, showers with bedraggled curtains and basins with water pooled on the surface where you want to set your toothbrush down. I’m not sure if we ran into each other in the bathroom or if we went in there intentionally to chat – hey there’s nowhere else to go when you’re sharing a room with 6 others and the dining hall is locked! We were university students on a camp with our club. My friend was blond and vivacious and a great storyteller. She often made us laugh at her own expense, like the time she was out jogging and she praised the work of some men weeding the creek bed, who jokingly invited her to join them, and so she cluelessly ended up helping this group of prisoners with their community service. She could always have you rolling in the aisles with her tales.

I don’t know how we got on to this topic, but we started talking about hugs. Different sorts of hugs – the awkward ones where the tall man tries to hug the short woman who is almost at his groin level, the big bear hug, the cautious hug with limp hesitant hands stretched out and no body where you don’t want the other person to get the wrong impression about you. We started demonstrating these hugs and we were soon in fits of laughter. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much in one night. This conversation must have gone on for a few hours – it was 3am and a few people complained about us in the morning. But we had surrendered to the doubled-over belly achingly unstoppable power of laughter.

We seemed to have a lot more to laugh about back when we were twenty. Many of the realities of adult life hadn’t hit yet, and if you’d had a childhood that was relatively kind to you – you hadn’t had many friends or family members die – you didn’t realise it could get harder to find things to laugh about. In my city we have a comedy festival, but I often forget to go, or when I have gone, I have struggled to find something really funny to see. I don’t find comedy very clever where the only adjective is the F word, or where everything is sexual innuendo (or just plain explicit). I crave something truly witty – cleverly constructed character and well-crafted words that will make me laugh. Not laugh at others’ misfortunes, or at the brokenness of the world. Laugh with hope. Laugh with a laughter made of light.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter what you laugh about, it’s who you’re with and how late it is and you’ll find almost anything funny. Playing Balderdash can bring you to tears of laughter over the ridiculous definitions of words you’ve created. Sorting fête donations with my mother we were in stitches over headless dolls and wondering who’d been chewing them last and why you would donate them for sale. Another time we cackled over books on the craft of wood burning that contained the ugliest pictures of kittens with balls of string that I’ve ever seen. It’s the people and the moments and it might sound like a cliché, but if we have an opportunity to bring some humour to someone in the day: a downcast workmate, an automaton checkout operator, a bored petrol station attendant let’s make them laugh, let’s make them smile. There are few sounds more joyful than sincere peals of laughter.

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That age-old battle of the fur-balls

Tabby cat sitting

“Your cat is such a snob. She totes hates me.”

“She’s not a snob, she’s just picky, like all the best people.”

“Hel-loo, she’s not ‘people’ – she’s a fur ball who’s shedding on the best chair!”

“What can I say, Sis, Peony has good taste.”

“Who calls a cat such a sucky name? No wonders she’s stuck up.”

“Well I’d rather a discriminating beast than a floozy critter that throws itself all over anyone on two legs – or four for that matter.”

“Watch it, Bro, are you insulting my Snoopy?”

“Face facts, that dog has about as much discrimination as the carpet.”

“It’s okay Snoopy-woopy, don’t listen to what he’s saying.”

“Baby talk? Now you’ve really lost it.”

“Snoopy’s so social, if you don’t talk to him he gets depressed.”

“Mmm, not sure how you can tell that, seeing as how you talk to him ALL THE TIME! I think it’s your drivel depressing him. ”

“You wouldn’t understand, we’re positive types, you and that fleabag are the sad sacks.”

“Peony isn’t sad. We’re introverts, we crave alone time. Away from the babble of little sisters and their yappy pooches.”

“Oh my gosh, totes just get over it. You’re just jealous because everyone likes my dog better than your cat.”

“That is not true, and I wouldn’t respect the opinion of anyone who favoured Dopey McDog over quiet feline intelligence. Emphasis on QUIET.”

“You are soooo jealous! Probably because that lump of furry lard never does anything. What is the point of a pet that’s sooo boring?”

“A few moments in the exhalted company of a cat is worth a thousand years with a dribbley dog. No wonder the Egyptians worshipped cats.”

“Well dog’s are human’s best friends. So there.”

“Oh grow up.”

“You grow up! HEY Snoopy – what are you doing over there? You don’t want to curl up with that stuck up kitty!”

“Apparently he does, Sis.”

[Contented canine snores and feline purrs.]

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