Durian, my assassin!

In search of random discoveries, as I walked past through the streets of Chinatown, I found something that divided the nation and its people.

As a matter of fact, it holds enormous power to even divide the entire world. Just like Coke and Pepsi or Nikon and Canon, it divides people (local or foreigners) into two – folks who will die for it and folks who will die because of it.

Want to be introduced to the celebrity? Here: meet Durian – the look alike of jackfruit. The king of fruits in South East Asia. The smelling nuisance. The fruit who killed me.

Smell wise, a durian can imitate a range of things; from almonds to gym socks to rotten fish to turpentine. It has a thorny outer shell which’s capable of cutting human skin & drawing blood and a custardy inside. And because of its notorious and strong smell, it’s banned inside the MRT. Fine wise, its 500 Singaporean dollars!

Even though durian is not a native of Singapore, it’s still widely in demand and supply here. For the trivia sake, they even have a building at Esplanade that is shaped like a huge durian. Guess its nickname? Durian, what else!

A friend told me, ‘If you get past through the smell, you’ll love it’ Honestly, she was wrong! Let me tell you another fact – post the smell, there’s this slimy texture waiting inside! And, if you get past through that, I’ll disown my childhood superhero and make you the new one!


‘Made in China, what else?’

Chinatown is to Singapore what Eiffel Tower is to Paris.

Red lanterns hung against the clear blue sky, the aroma of mysterious Chinese meats being readied on snack kiosks, the ironic backdrop of surrounding mega tall rises, a battery of old men spending a lazy day playing Chinese chess near the Pagoda; Chinatown impresses in all quarters – colors, culture, history, gastronomy and photography!

Even barely stepping foot for a minute, one will graduate to the fact that everything sold in Chinatown is ‘Made in China.’ There are scores of Chinese eateries, Chinese souvenir shops, Chinese traditional medicine shops, even a Chinese comb shop that had its salesgirls desperately attempting to sell combs to me. They want a bald guy with combs – Good Chinese joke, I say!

Nearly all streets and alleys in Chinatown wind up to the gigantic Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum. No chance you can miss this beautiful and intricately built pagoda. There’s a certain aura that binds you inside. And even though I was in a hurry, I sat up for half an hour of silence. I was gazing at the Buddha then looking out from the tiny windows I was smiling at the outside world. Undoubtedly, I can sanction it to be the most peaceful zone of Singapore.

Getting lost in the dingy by lanes of Chinatown is a natural phenomenon. Don’t pull out the map and cure yourself from getting lost. Let it happen. Because only when you are lost is when you will discover Erich, a six foot tall, Austrian dragon that sells authentic sausages. So you know, all his sausages are styled the Austrian way and are served with a hundred percent Austrian smile! Ask Erich about the city and he will reply in a loud husky Austrian accent – ‘Wunderbar!’

This day, in extreme self confidence and faith, I pronounce Erich as the only ‘not Made in China product’ of Chinatown. Oh, chef Erich is also as actively involved on facebook as much as in his sausage trade. Find more on his page here: http://on.fb.me/LLfMYK

‘Lah, leh, loh’

“Red light cannoh (cannot) walk, only green light can walk” – where in the world will you hear a six year old say that to his mother who’s trying to cross the street while it’s still a red signal? The answer is Singapore.

The phraseology used by the kid is commonly known as Singlish or Singaporean English – a unique way of eating up a few letters, words or parts of a sentence to inadvertently come up with a version that sounds funny to the rest of the world – although to them, it’s perfectly normal. For example – ‘Also’ becomes ‘Oso.’ Yet another example – ask a salesman in a shop, “Can I take a picture?” and the guy is most likely to respond – “Can lah” or “Cannot lah” – quite efficient & crisp, no lah?

So the best souvenir to bring from Singapore? Learn some Singlish!

‘Meeting Micheal Jackson in Singapore!’

While in Singapore you can’t, you shouldn’t and you probably won’t miss him. Merlion – the most popular Singaporean dude has a lion face and the body of a fish. He stands tall, superimposed over a backdrop of towering high rises and throws a jet of water from his mouth 24/7. Really a hard working fellow!

This artistic mascot is like Micheal Jackson of Singapore. No matter where you go, no matter whom you go with, they will always ask if you clicked a picture with him. Your family back home, your friends (especially facebook friends) your colleagues, they won’t believe you were in Singapore unless you carried a picture with him in the background. So even though you might feel he’s a bit over-rated, you can’t return without having him in your lenses!

To be honest, I didn’t. But you must!

‘OMI – oh my India!’

When you hear Bollywood songs coming out of mobile phones, when the aroma of freshly made sambhar juggles with your senses, when your face begins to be scanned for familiarity – look around, you’re either inside or closer to Little India, the Mecca place for all Indians.

Once you’re in Little India, relax. Feel at home. It’s actually home to many away from home, for many Indians who arrived and settled away from the motherland. The Diaspora, the long term workers and the short term tourists; they all thrive on Little India to find random connections to the homeland.

Being there, I felt a bit of nostalgia in the air and quite honestly that dose was enough to feel for the country I always take for granted.

One should take a stroll in Little India. One should also be ready for a long walk. Situated at the two ends of the Serangoon road are the Kali Amman temple and Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple, divided arbitrarily by the Masjid Angoolia somewhere in the middle. They are all well color coordinated and beautifully built and even though you may find the trio very touristic – yet, I reckon, they are all worth a visit!

With all the choices of Indian restaurants and inviting flavors from street shops, it’s hard to stay hungry for long; so settle down in one or multiple places and satisfy your Indian meal hunger pang!

Besides the nostalgia, the temples and the eateries, the most eye-catching, wallet- grabbing phenomenon in Little India is Mustafa Center – a six storey, many buildings, mega collossuem which sells anything and everything under the Sun, only except fighter planes and dolphins!

Since most visitors to Mustafa are from the Indian Diaspora or short term Indian tourists, the store is cleverly stacked with Indian spices, fruits, souvenirs, electronics and everything that Indians demand and seek for.

My impression of the Mustafa store? Well, it’s like a crowded Mumbai local train fitted with a crisp air-conditioning and the glamorous scope of picking up LCDs at best buy prices. Crudely saying, that’s exactly what a typical scene is on the weekends. There are people everywhere, buying everything!

Inside, they even sell vegetarian mutton curry, vegetarian chicken slice & vegetarian roasted chicken – I mean, vegetarian? Really? Well, if you know what they are or how they tasted, please do let me know!

‘Yay, I’m swimming at the edge!’

In 1993, when the American rock band Aerosmith sang, Livin’ on the Edge, little did they know that someday one could also swim at the edge. That’s right – one can, in style, at a height and in Singapore!

The biggest fad of the city, Marina Bay Sands is a huge (read: can’t be ignored) structure in downtown Singapore and it is here, at the top floor of the hotel, where the much acclaimed ‘Infiniti pool’ spreads its magical charm and addictive aura.

To be brutally honest, swimming at this world’s longest elevated ‘edge of the hotel’ swimming pool requires one to stay at the hotel, which at a bare minimum cost of approximately 500 Singaporean dollars per night is not a very modest quote!

Only if you’re as lucky as me, you’ll get invited by a friend as a guest. I’m sure, in no time you will fall in love with the word ‘guest’ and also with all the avenues it opens up when used!

Quite frankly, I have never swum at such a pool. The feeling inside the waters is ecstatic; something that comes naturally with the height and the edge. Once inside the pool, you wouldn’t wish to return. You wouldn’t wish to do anything else except standing at the edge and gazing at the height below or eyeing the city ahead and feeling the star filled sky. If truly, there are only a few manmade creations such as this.

Besides the celebrity pool, there’s a casino that is billed as world’s most expensive standalone casino property, doors of which are open to foreigners for free while for Singaporeans there’s a 100 dollar entry fee! So when you arrive in Singapore, bring some luck too!

What to do if you’re not invited as a guest? Think.

Being there, you will lose (end up paying) some dollars. Not being there, you’ll be at a total loss. Choice is yours!

Thoughts on the train to Katoomba

Going up three flights of escalators to reach the ground floor of the Sydney central station was just as easy as finding the platform from where my Intercity for Katoomba would be leaving. There were large television screens giving me all the information I needed. As I turned into the right platform, I just happened to ask the railwayman there, ‘Which of these will be going to Katoomba?’

‘The first four carriages this side.’

That was when I noticed some activity at the far end of the platform side that this man had just pointed out. I thought for one insane moment that I was late and that the train was actually leaving and that the next was after an hour and by then it would be too late to plan a visit to the Blue Mountains… and so enmeshed I was in these thoughts that I simply started running. As I reached the area around the first four carriages, I heard this woman shout at me, ‘Why are you running?’

I was probably too busy trying to see where I could rush and climb on board and so she shouted again, ‘Why are you running? There are still ten minutes before the train leaves for Katoomba.’

‘Oh!’ I said sheepishly, ‘I thought the train was leaving.’

I slowed down to a stop, took a few deep breathes and did a few toe-ups to relax my calf muscles and then looked around. Not many people to go to Katoomba, I thought but then immediately added that there was still time and people will come rushing in at the last minute. Well, actually enough did trickle in from then and so I just went in and climbed to go to the top deck of the compartment so I could get a better view.

The trains here have a unique seat mechanism… watch the video to know about it

This graffiti is interesting… students always want to remain upside down, don’t they?

No escape from graffiti…

Spray paint artists find the strangest of places for working on their creations!

The city rail here in Sydney has all double-deckers and so does the Intercity, I noted with relief. The top deck is presumably a lovely place to sit and so I just went and sat on a seat that would keep me facing the direction in which the train was moving. And just then this rather old granny entered, went to a seat and stopped to look at it with a bit of grumpiness, ‘I can’t always be facing the other side. It makes me dizzy!’ And then she just placed her hands on the hand rest on the seat and pulled it to the other side… and bingo! The seat back-rest slid to the other side with a short metallic screech! I was… well, I was actually staring at her and she was quick to understand that I was surprised at this seat flexibility and so she addressed me, ‘Well, I love this part of the Sydney trains!’

And that was when I decided to take a short video of these flexi-seats in Sydney trains…

The train started at the precise time it was to start and the driver in his own quaint accent told us that we were on time before rattling off the names of all the stations we’d be stopping at. I do remember a few of the names and, in particular, Emu Plains from where the landscape began to change. All the names did sound so romantic and included Leura, Bulaburra, Valley Heights, Warrimoo, Glenbrook, Emu Plains, and Homebush… but what I remember was staring at the way the tree types changed as we hurried towards the mountains.

And from inside the train, the road outside seemed quite unrushed and calm. Even the odd large truck there appeared to be in no hurry and was happily cruising at his desired speed. ‘This is the best part of Australia,’ I thought, ‘these people are never in a hurry and yet nothing remains undone or incomplete or shabbily crafted.’

I remembered the hostess at the hotel telling me that ‘Australians are a laid back people,’ and then with a smile had added, ‘We love our Saturdays and Sundays.’

Charming countryside in Australia…

Even the truckers cruise… unhurried pace… relaxed air everywhere!

One feels like getting off the train and spending the rest of one’s life in a place where everything is unhurried… and nature uses all its colours!

It is the train that moves fast… the town calmly stays there and smiles!

I did notice that though there was no hurry even in the bustle of Sydney, people did seem to be knowing what they had to do and were just doing it… with a smile and with all the time to answer your queries. ‘A rather friendly nation,’ I said to myself and found the old granny opposite looking at me.

‘You’re going to Katoomba, right?’

‘Yes, though I’m not sure where I’ll be going to once I’m there.’

‘Oh! That’s quite simple. Just one straight road there and you keep walking on it to reach the three sisters. You get a lovely view from there.’

‘And what about the buses…’ I began and she immediately said, ‘You can sit in a bus and go, if you want to. But if the weather is good… and it is today… you can walk as well.’

That sounded like a comforting piece of advice and I thought I’ll review the distances there before spending money on the bus tours of Katoomba.

That was when I noticed the mountains that had suddenly come much closer than they were before… and was lost in the blue haze that seemed to surround them. Soundlessly we went on… and I was in my own world that imagined a nice walk up and down the mountain sides. I love trekking and thought it was so exciting to be trekking in Australia!

Well, I did get to walk by the sides of the mountains… and there weren’t many who opted to go this way. I also went hurtling down the mountain to the dense tropical forest far below… to walk on the specially created pathway that took me right into the heart of this forest that was dark and cool and wet and was so full of strange sounds of strange birds! But all that in some other post…

Hues that remain in your memory for a long long time…

…and when all is gone, you look up and pray!

Small towns that seem clutter-free and peaceful and poetic…



























































This blog post has been contributed by Arvind Passey on his travel to Australia. Read more about Arvind at http://passey.info/

Observing people at the airport

Airport moods can be captured if you walk around and observe. A view of IGIA T3.


‘What do you do when you cross the security check and have a lot of time on your hands?’ asked a friend once.

‘Well, I talk to my wife,’ I answered simply.

‘And when you’re alone?’ he persisted.

‘I observe through my camera,’ I answered, without a pause. This seemed to convince him… no, not my answer, but the speed with which I answered. Truth is that when you answer without pausing to rearrange your thoughts, you tend to reflect facts that generally people love to otherwise garnish or camouflage.

This time when I flew to Sydney, I was alone and that old and faded conversation came back with a bounce. The moment I crossed the security check barrier, I just took out my camera and walked slowly towards the boarding gates thinking, ‘How many times will I capture the same shops, the same interiors?’ And then suddenly I actually began to observe little things that probably escape most fliers.

I saw a family of four take out a home-packed bag and as I closed in on them I overheard that they were actually eating ‘parathas’! Yes, they were stuffed parathas and I was rather surprised. International flights normally give you a lot to eat and most of it is good… which just meant that either this family was too hungry or thought they would be flying out to a distant destination empty-stomach.


Some sleep at airports…










Some are lost in their tech toys…










Some get ‘parathas’ from home…










…and some stretch on the sofa and snore!










My observation did tell me that there were seven types of fliers you generally meet in airport terminals:

  1. The sleepers who just close their eyes and sleep anywhere.
  2. The eaters who either bring eatables from home or just sit around having snacks, juices, colas, and coffee.
  3. The communicators who find some place and sit with their laptops, tabs, iPads or phones and keep themselves busy messaging inanities.
  4. The readers who will take a book out anywhere and start reading. They are the ones who will rely more on what others observe… and will tend to feel they are the most observant without actually having spent any time in observing anything or anyone.
  5. Then there are those who love to while away their time just roaming around aimlessly. They wouldn’t be bothered much about their cameras nor their notebooks or iPads… they just walk around and most of the time they too hardly observe anything or remember much of what they could have seen during their aimless jaunts!
  6. The shoppers and the talkers form the sixth group. They are the ones responsible for the constant hum and buzz that is there on airport terminals… or bus stations or train stations, for that matter… they are forever discussing things and people and form the largest bulk of those waiting at any terminal anywhere.
  7. The last category is of people like me who will take their camera out at the slightest provocation and start clicking…

This picture was clicked at Sydney Airport… thus you see the same moods all over the world!










Here is another playing with his tech toy at Bangkok airport!











The best thing about any airport terminal is that it is always bustling with people as there is one or the other flight leaving at any time of the day or night… well, at least the busier ones are full of people at all times.

My trip to Sydney obviously took me to the T3 at IGIA, New Delhi, which is one of the busier airports in the world.

It isn’t that the categories that I have mentioned were exclusive to the Delhi airport… I could see similar sign in Bangkok and even in Sydney. The pictures that I took are ample proof of what I am saying.

Here is a video on my observations at the airport terminal:


Here are a few more pictures that reflect the inside of an airport:

The reflective roof at Bangkok airport… catching moods from a different angle!














Picture taken in the boarding area at Bangkok airport… when it is dark outside, the interior reflects well!

This is me… at IGIA T3… on my way to Sydney!



…and this too is me… on my way back to Delhi at the Sydney airport.




This blog post has been contributed by Arvind Passey on his travel to Australia. Read more about Arvind at http://passey.info/


Sydney in reflections

Sydney reflected in the lightboxes kept out on the promenade near the Opera House…


I was lucky to be in Sydney during the Vivid Light Show days… the city is colourfully reflected here


What do you see in a city like Sydney with high rises and lots of reflective surface? Well, reflections that can be exotic, thoughtful, or even naughty!

A reflection is the soul of any city… it nudges its inhabitants to look into those areas that need to be redone. It tells them of the charm of walking by a certain place when they wish to feel the warmth of the city. Reflections sell, cajole, whisper, seduce, and even mesmerize. I was totally charmed by the reflections that Sydney gave me… and photographing them was indeed a pleasure.

There were reflections everywhere. But not just the glass on buildings, I managed to capture quite a few pictures of Sydney reflected in the wind screens of buses and cabs too. Then there were the occasional water puddles where some interesting reflections emerged. Being next to the sea, the harbour area did have reflections but the waves made them simply impossible.

My favourite reflection of a Sydney moment!


I realised that reflections have the power to make you stop even when you are in a hurry… and think of things that will bring a smile on your face. They transport you back into the past… they take you for a ride into the future, and sometimes they just let you laze around in the present with a happy smile that says: ‘I love life!’

Well, yes, this is one lesson that Sydney offered to anyone who bothered to stop and talk to it or listen to what it whispered through the wind that meandered from the corners of every street. It said with a lot of conviction that it loved life and that nothing else really mattered.

I have been reading a quaint travelogue by Bill Bryson and it is his journey through Australia. In ‘Down Under’, Bill writes:

“Personally, I think Australians ought to be extremely proud that from the most awkwardly unpropitious beginnings, in a remote and challenging place, they created a prosperous and dynamic society. That is exceedingly good going. So what if dear old gramps was a bit of a sticky-fingered felon in his youth? Look what he left behind.”

I was reading this paragraph as I sat on a bench in martin Place in Sydney and had just been photographing a few of the lovely reflections that the city architecture made possible. And I told myself, ‘Well, indeed, Sydney buildings do reflect a beautiful present and these reflections tell me how hard the past generations must have worked… how hard and with a really grand futuristic vision.’

It is the futuristic vision that a city always reflects… look at any of the great cities around the world. They would be reflecting the vision of its architects – its socio-political, economic, and cultural thinkers! The reflections of Sydney have certainly made an indelible impression on me and of all the things that will make me go back to this country these are going to be a part of the strongest reasons! Yes, reflections that are powerful, do sell.

Reflections can create caricatures that become immediately endearing and memorable…

..or a full scale reflection of the busy high-rise buildings…






















Reflections in water puddles… while climbing up to the harbour bridge.











The Sydney sky in a reflection!










The trendiest shopping area in an appropriately golden hue… captured towards evening!

















Not ‘just another reflection’ but one that gets the impact of a sun preparing to set!






















Even trees must be wondering at the ever changing city that is reflected by tall buildings!






















The icon of Sydney in all it’s reflected glory!

















The evening sky of Sydney reflected in a lamp-post near the Opera House.















































This blog post has been contributed by Arvind Passey on his travel to Australia. Read more about Arvind at http://passey.info/

Sustainable Sydney

Reading culture on the streets of Sydney!

There is art everywhere in Sydney. I stepped out of Amora on Jamison Street and came face to face with art. Walk in any direction and you’ll encounter art. In front of building, in laneways, near parks, or wherever the city gives enough space for yet another installation.

When I enquired I was told about the plan to convert Sydney into an Art Hub by 2030… they say they will include the Laneway art program, City spaces, Green square and a whole lot of other permanent and temporary art plans and policies to have a ‘sustainable’ Sydney soon. The word ‘sustainable’ did ring a bell… enough art and culture strewn across the city will surely have a positive effect on the attitudes and outlooks of the people who are exposed to it day In and day out. This did seem to me to be a rather sound definition of ‘sustainable’.

Fascinating display of hanging cages in a lane off the main George Street…

Well, for those who are interested, the Guiding Principles for the implementation of public art across the City of Sydney local government area are:

  • Align significant City Art projects with major Sustainable Sydney 2030 urban design projects
  • Recognise and celebrate Aboriginal stories and heritage in the public domain
  • Support local artists and activate city places through temporary art projects
  • Support vibrant places in Village Centres with community art and City Art projects
  • Promote high quality public art in private development
  • Support stakeholder and government partners to facilitate public art opportunities
  • Manage and maintain the City’s collection of permanent art works, monuments and memorials
  • Initiate and implement programs to communicate, educate and engage the public about City Art

Just walk in any direction of inner Sydney and you are sure to bump into the most intriguing and fascinating examples of art. The best way to do this is to walk down George Street and stop at every crossing, walk a bit in the left and right direction, come back and resume the walk. Do this until you’ve covered the distance from the harbour end to the China Town end… and then do the same with Elizabeth Street or just amble across to the Darling harbour side… wherever you go, you’re sure to bump into the most extraordinary art examples.

From the Lin Li Golden Watermouth a 1999 creation at the start of Chinatown to the famous Touchstones at Aurora Place conceptualised by Kan Yasuda. This piece of art, they say, encourages the connection between the architect and the artist… see for yourself:


An interesting doorway sculpture…


Golden Watermouth near China Town in Sydney…




Then you see the wild boar or Il Porcellino at the top of hill outside the Sydney Hospital. People rub his nose, make a wish, drop a coin in his basket and have a photograph taken standing near him… and I did the same!


The Sydney pig that everyone loves!

We did the ‘free tour’ with Justine, an architecture student, and the first artwork that she pointed out near the Townhall was ‘Eternity’ written just below on the subway where we stood. There is a rather interesting story to this word, she told us… and went on to tell us all about Arthur Stace who wrote the word all over the city and it was only much later that the people discovered who the person was who was doing this. A website also tells us his story and points out that “he would get up in the early hours of the morning, and leave his home in Pyrmont at 5:00 or 5:30am, after praying an hour or so. He would go where he believed God had directed him that particular day, and write every hundred metres or so on the pavement (sidewalk), as it seemed most visible. Eternity. And he’d be home by ten that morning. 

He went all over: Wynyard, Glebe, Paddington, Randwick, Central Station; A very slight figure, 5’3″, grey-haired. He experimented with variations at times, but in the end he finished as he had begun — Eternity. Others claimed responsibility for the messages, for they were the object of a prolonged and public curiosity, the subject of columnist’s review and speculation, but he did not come forward. He saw his mission as evangelistic, but he didn’t want the publicity for himself; it was a thing between him and God. 

It wasn’t until 1956 that the puzzle was solved. Stace was the cleaner, and a prayer leader at the Burton Street Baptist Church, where the Rev. Lisle M. Thompson was the minister. Lisle one day saw Arthur writing Eternity on the pavement (sidewalk), not knowing he was being seen.”

There is interesting story behind this one…


To me, the best part of my stay in Sydney was trying to discover as many artworks as possible… and I did stumble on to many. A few that really impressed me were the totem pole near the University of Sydney, the hanging cages in the inner city, the three monkeys on a pub doorway near Chinatown, and a man reading his newspaper!

Not that the others were not good… they are excellent pieces of art and are doing their bit in converting Sydney into a really sustainable city!


The artworks on the streets are more than life-size… and you bump into them in the most unexpected spots!


The stencilled look suits this one…


Artworks are everywhere you look… even on the top of buildings!


I found this one as I was walking towards the Opera house from my hotel…

Even spaces inside buildings are used to display art… on the GF where the Expedia office was…


Loved this totem pole in a park near the University of Sydney…


Abstract art abounds… and gives huge concrete structures a poetic charm!


Came across this one near the Darling Harbour area!


The first canon kept quite near the Circular Quay… Justine, my tour guide is explaining it’s history to us.


The Queen must be happy to see Sydney promoting art…

This blog post has been contributed by Arvind Passey on his travel to Australia. Read more about Arvind at http://passey.info/