07 July 2010

Shantiwallah is moving

Ta da! Shantiwallah has finally moved to a new location.
Come on over to Shantiwallah.com and have a look. I can't wait to see you there!


08 June 2010

I love...

Early morning writing, originally uploaded by Shanti, shanti.

my home office.

Since it has become cold and rainy, my little office is quickly becoming my sanctuary. I've got a small heater that only takes about 5 minutes get it really nice and warm in here. I can't concentrate when I'm cold! As I'm slowly getting things organised so that files, real paper dictionaries, flash drives, cookbooks, language reference books, the printer/scanner and the internet are all in one room, I really only ever have to go out to get a cup of tea and a snack every now and then. Sometimes I even keep a secret stash of dark chocolate, but don't tell anyone. It's my secret weapon.

31 May 2010

I love...

The chosen one
I haven't had time for blogging as I've been busy starting up a couple of new projects which shall be revealed soon. But I can say that one of them is moving my blogs over on to my own server and restyling them both. This has been much more difficult and time consuming than I thought it would be but I've had some amazing people helping me and cheering me on. Where would we be in this world without friends and family?

I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel and I really hope to relaunch my blogs soon so I can do a proper catch up. Until then, I hope everyone is doing well and hasn't given up on me. And if you ever want to set up your own webspace, my advice would be to do a lot of cooking for friends in the know.

24 May 2010

I love...

Young coconut juice drink, originally uploaded by Shanti, shanti.

Asian drinks with bits in them. This one is coconut with young coconut pieces.

17 May 2010

Embassies in Bangkok: contact details for travellers

Things have become unpredictable in Thailand and I thought I'd just put up a quick contact list of embassies in Bangkok. This is hastily typed up and is not comprehensive, however, most travellers should be able to find their relevant contact details here. I'm also including a link to some major English-language news pages at the bottom of this post that tend to have comprehensive reports.

It is usually possible to register your whereabouts with an embassy and, at the very least, give a contact number if you have one.

The city code for Bangkok is 02. If you are dialling from outside the country you need to dial you international exit code, if there is one for your country, then 66, then 2, then the 7 digit number.

+66 2 344 6300

+66 2-636-0540

+66 2 254 5105-6

+66 2 266 6911, 848 2209 (press 2)

Czech Republic
+66-2-255 3027 or 255 5060

+66 (0)2 343 1100

+66-2-250 8801

+66 2 657 51 00

66 2 287 90 00


+66 2 677 7500

+66 2-204-9200; +66 2-204-9237; +66 2-204-9226-7

+66 2 285 4090


+66 2 247-7537 – 9


+66 2 285-0995, 285-0815 al 18

The Netherlands
+66 (0)2 3095200

New Zealand
+66 2 254 2530

+66 (0)2 204-6500

+66 2 2530288/9

The Philippines
+66 2 259-0139 to 40; 258-5401

+66 2 2342123, 22340372

Saudi Arabia

+286 2111, +286 1434

South Africa
+66 2 2509012-14

+66 2 661 8284

+66-(0)2 263 72 00

+66 2 253 01 56

+66 (2) 670-0200 – 9

+66 2 274-7262 – 3

United Kingdom
+66 (0) 2 305 8333

United States

BBC World
Bangkok Post

10 May 2010

I love...

...my Mum!

I know Mothers' Day was technically yesterday, but I wanted this to be this week's "I love Mondays" post. You can click on the photo to take you to the original, full-sized photo or watch this video of the building. This display was up all weekend and not one person vandalised it (I love Aucklanders!) unless you count the person who wrote "I love bacon". Happy Mothers' Day, Mum!!

03 May 2010

26 April 2010

I love...

Mongolian barbecue, originally uploaded by Shanti, shanti.
...Mongolian barbecue.

(This one was on N. Sepulveda Blvd. in Manhattan Beach, CA)

23 April 2010

Love, roses and books

I’ve never quite been able to put a finger on why I have a slight aversion to St. Valentine’s Day. I’ve tried to like it, really. Maybe it’s the forced aspect and thinking it’s all about marketing like many of our festivals. I do like chocolate…but then I can eat chocolate any day.

Having lived in England for many years, to me St. George's day has sort of a vague definition as a holiday. While Wales, Ireland (Northern and Southern), and Scotland all have their proudly celebrated Saint’s days, people in England were never really big on St. George’s day. You might see a few places flying the St. Georges cross, or the odd person or two wearing a ribbon or some other vague reference, but it’s pretty much business as usual. This could be owing to the debate as to whether St. George was actually born in England, as some believe his place of birth to have been Turkey. I suppose that one needs some investigating.

Little did I know, however (with my enormous ignorance of all things saint-y), that St. George is someone who is celebrated in many other European countries with festivals falling on either the date of his birth or that of his death. Countries included are Spain, and here is the good part, where the saint is associated with roses, love and, books. A festival about love and books? Now that I can get into.Throw in the fact that both Cervantes and Shakespeare died on the 23rd of April and you have a nice little group of literary and romantic heroes to honour in celebration. Just don’t forget to get the roses after the arduous task of choosing just the right book for your love.

21 April 2010

Simple recipes

Flour, water, salt. It seems like a recipe would need more than this. Are my readers going to believe that this is all it takes? Perhaps I’ll add something at the end. Nothing tastes exactly the same as it does in situ, but the anticipation I feel during this meditative action of kneading certainly takes me back to a cold hillside where nothing is more welcoming than steaming, hot bread. Are three simple ingredients enough to transport my readers?

Although my eyes took a while to adjust to the darkness of the room, and I immediately had to get my layers of down off for fear of melting in the smoky warmth, I knew my husband and I had happened upon one of the best places in Darjeeling. I could just sense it. Nothing was pretentious. The walls were wooden, the floor too. Even the tables and chairs were made of wood which, of course is not very unusual, but I’m guessing they were handmade. And then, the all-encompassing wool. Wool embroidered with wool became oval-shaped, carpets on the floor. The same carpets were used as chair covers or formed into cushions in the window seat for lounging on. The draughts from the door were caught by the felted woollen blanket that was tacked up haphazardly with rusty drawing pins so that you had to open the door from the outside while simultaneously pushing through the musty curtain in order to enter. What else? Buddhas. The end wall had a thanka, the Mahayana Buddhist tapestry, which just about covered it while exchanging grain for golden threads.

As I was looking for a tissue for my, now running unstoppably, nose came the deliverance of flatbreads to our table by a woman with very old looking turquoise and amber hanging from her ears and around her neck and just about everywhere else. In her free hand was a bowl of something white.

“Do you like yak cheese? Put inside, you’ll like it.”

That we did. And we did.

The next day, while visiting a Tibetan women’s collective I spotted a woollen rug that would fit nicely in my backpack. I couldn’t take home a kind-faced Tibetan woman, or fresh bread and yak cheese, nor a smoky, wooden room but a lightweight rug would be just right. It would be a souvenir that would not only serve as a good memory for me, but also as a donation to the collective.

I carried that little rug all the way home from the Himalayas and now it’s covered in flour. The only reason I can think of for keeping my treasured rug on the floor of my kitchen rather than preserved somewhere safe is that I wanted it to be alive and used as a part of my life like it would’ve been in its ancestral home. What good is it preserved forever if I can’t look at it and enjoy it and drop flour on it? A lesson in impermanence.

My water highly treated, straight from the tap and the flour bought pre-ground from a supermarket. I don’t even know where the salt came from, perhaps the New Zealand briny.

Her water fetched from the well and boiled, flour brought up from the Indian plains on over-decorated noisy trucks threatening to tip over the edge at every turn. Himalayan salt, a very grey variety.

Flour, water, salt. Wood, wool, Buddhas. Most of the recipes I write have more details, but I don’t think I’ll add anything.

You can find another version of this story as well as the recipe here.

20 April 2010

I love...

looking out, originally uploaded by Shanti, shanti.
sneaky-peek views.

16 April 2010

Words that refuse to be written

My brain is working already but I refuse to open my eyes and commit to the day until my alarm goes off. The flood of ideas begins as it does every morning. Sometimes it is things I would like to make or places I could go to compose a photo, but mostly it’s ideas for writing and I’m already mourning those that will never be written.

Some stories are able to be jotted down in skeletal form and revisited later to be built and nurtured into existence. Some are just topics that may turn into any number of possibilities, but there are others that I know will never exist outside of my mind in this moment in my sheets. Those are the ones I am sad about.

When these ideas come to life, they are in full colour and I can see the actions happening as if I am there. I may feel calm or my heart may race depending on what’s happening, or I may even feel the emotion of the situation and wonder if tears will well up. Sadly I know that these words are so perfect that I will not be able to recreate them with my fingers along the keyboard. They are asking to be enjoyed now.

There is no time to get a computer or even paper. To do that would be to interrupt the story and lose the ending forever. Computers have to power up, which takes an eternity when you want to get something down. And to start to write would be to distract my brain with details such as crispness of paper, graphite against white, or curly lettering that encourages my mind to drift towards images of feathers or dog tails.

I thought I’d come to a conclusion that I am meant to be writing this stuff down. After all these years of writing for myself and suffering somewhat ill-fitting careers I finally had the epiphany that this is what I was meant to be doing. The words have been trying to tell me this, but I haven’t listened until now. Now I am listening. I’ve shifted my entire life’s vantage point and have given up a regular income. All these sacrifices have felt so right, so why wouldn’t all of the words want to be written? What is the purpose of these stories that refuse to let me reproduce them? Is it the brain still dreaming from the previous night? Is it just processing and filing thoughts and the format just happens to be beautiful? Is this my brain’s way of saying, “Don’t get too cocky! You don’t get to show everyone the best stuff, you know.” ? Perhaps they are only gifts intended for me. How wonderful a notion.

I won’t be dissuaded. I’ll continue on with writing those things that want to be written. I feel rewarded by those good little stories that comply with the physical conventions of my life. Should I mourn the others? I somehow feel there is a different lesson to learn from those, but I haven’t found out what it is yet.

12 April 2010

I love...

being home after a long flight and seeing the sun set between the houses.

30 March 2010

I love...

Mackerel sky, originally uploaded by Shanti, shanti.

dreamy mackerel skies.

22 March 2010

I love...

Where I'd rather be!, originally uploaded by Shanti, shanti.


And, for the first time in many years, this time next week I will be in the United States. I'm very excited!

17 March 2010

What I learned about myself by going to see the Pixies

1. I am old.
I was looking around and thinking that this is a very old crowd. I was looking at the band and thinking how they’d got old (Even older than me, of course. Sorry Pixies.), but probably do yoga and eat healthy food in an effort to maintain their youthfulness like many of us. Then I realised that the crowd was probably mostly my age. Damn!

2. I sat in the seats.
In the old days I would’ve made sure that I queued, overnight with a sleeping bag in the rain if necessary, to get tickets for the floor so I could be in the mosh. But it didn’t even occur to me to do that this time. Actually, a friend was the first one to find out about the tour and kindly offered to organise the tickets online. Good on her too, because this was about four months ago. I’ve never been that organised.

3. I find it hard to be at a gig and sit still.
I never understood the restraint it would take people to sit and watch a gig nicely in a seat. But then, I’ve always been a bit of a dancer. However, being up in the stands, it does feed the vertigo if you dance with too much movement, so I did a sort of half-dance thing so I could at least feel the music. The women in front of me were quite drunk on glowing cocktails, however, and were unrestrained by the vertigo monster.

4. I’m prone to bouts of nostalgia.
In the old days, every gig I went to would’ve been in a small venue, heavy with the scent of smoke and marijuana, sticky underfoot from spilled beer and rum and cokes, crowded, dirty, young, and with sweat raining off the ceiling. I would’ve been high on adrenaline, screaming every word from the top of my voice and felt one with the band and the crowd, never worrying about the fact that I’d be hoarse, deaf, and a couple of kilos lighter the next day. And I would’ve loved every minute of it.

5. My gig-going behaviour may or may not be changing (it could just be society)
At this show I put cotton in my ears to make things clearer and to save my, probably already damaged, hearing. I sang every couple of lines or so unless it was one of my favourites. I thought about getting hydrated before I went and didn’t end up having a beer at all because I was driving (and actually paid out for safe parking). The numbers on the floor were controlled with wristbands and each person was directed to their padded seat by a smiling usher. The venue was non-smoking (I’m not a smoker anyway), shiny and new, air-conditioned, and sold the aforementioned cocktails in plastic glasses that glow in different colours and make me think of Lady Gaga. No, I didn’t have one. I drew a line.

6. I’m not that old.
I found myself watching the floor crowd much of the time and wishing I’d thought to try and get tickets for that. I was totally jealous of those people jumping as a huge amorphous unit and becoming ensconced in the music like in the old days. I even saw a couple of people make an attempt at crowd surfing. I should’ve made more of an effort to get onto the floor. I might be old, but I’m not sure if I’m ready to sit down yet.

And here is 1 minute of Debaser for your viewing pleasure from a very long distance and in very poor quality. Enjoy.

16 March 2010

Auckland's West Coast Beaches

All you can do is follow the lines on the twisting road while you’re surrounded by walls of native ferns and the occasional house of some lucky soul who has dropped out of city life. But, you know you are getting close when you start to get those rewarding glimpses of the big space you are looking for, the open sea.

A nice little bonus of staying in Auckland is that you can get to a number of beaches within a short drive. The pick of the bunch are less than an hour’s drive to the west. Piha, Karekare, Bethells/ Te Henga and Muriwai are four beaches, each with their own character, that are well worth the drive over the Waitakere Ranges. It’s easiest to think of the beaches in two pairs.

Piha and Karekare

The dramatic thing about arriving at these two beaches is that you drop down from above. At Piha, there is even a popular place to pull over check out the view before descending. Make your own postcards here. And, you may recognise Karekare as the beach that The Piano was filmed on.Although the West Coast beaches are known for their volcanic sand, here it is a mix of black and the more usual brown sand that provides a tiger-stripe effect in some places and is very soft underfoot. The pounding waves that produce this fine sand are also the reason that these beaches are a perfect venue for the surf competitions that happen throughout the year. Surf comp or no surf comp, it’s great to soak up the atmosphere and have a picnic. If you aren’t keen on loading up the chilly bin with your own eats, at Piha there is a small takeaway place where you can get burgers, chips and ice cream.

To get to Piha and Karekare, you point your car in the direction of Titirangi village, which is nice place to stop for breakfast, lunch or a coffee en route. There is also a small supermarket where you can pick up picnicking supplies. Immediately after Titirangi you will come to a roundabout where you veer on to the second left known as Scenic Drive. After a short drive you will see the Arataki Visitor Centre on the left which is the gateway to the Waitakeres and provides good information on local flora and fauna as well as directions to the various walks and tramps in the area. From there, keep driving until you see the turnoff on your left for Karekare, or continue on to Piha.

Muriwai and Bethell’s/ Te Henga

Muriwai is characterised by the gannet colony that exists here. You can climb up to the outcrop and look down on the migratory birds from a viewing platform. Depending on the time of year, the birds may be sitting on what seem like impossibly large eggs or flying off and back to feed the fluffy chicks, which is always fun to watch. Fishing off the rocks is fairly popular, but it is not recommended as people regularly get washed off. Instead, take a walk along the dark black, sparkly, and very hot volcanic sand. Or simply just relax and watch (or join in with!) the kite surfers.Te Henga looks and feels very wild. You emerge between two large dunes to come out to a wide, and often windswept, beach. It’s great for surfing or a dip in the briny, but do have a look at the surf lifesaver’s board before venturing in as the conditions can be a bit rough sometimes. If in doubt, there is a great lagoon that is especially fun for children. Just bear in mind that if you choose the beach on the far side of the lagoon at low tide, you may find yourself on a bit of a hike to get back at high tide. You generally need to bring your own food here, but at some times of the year there is a little caravan café that serves up good coffee and snacks.
Muriwai and Te Henga are the northernmost of the four beaches and can be accessed by going up Scenic Drive as you would for Piha, and then taking Waitakere Road to Te Henga Road for Te Henga. For Muriwai, continue on to Kumeu and travel west until you run out of road.

As with all beaches in New Zealand, on the west coast beaches what you see is not always what you get in terms of calm waters. There are a lot of dangerous rips and undertows. Be safe and swim between the flags. And if there aren’t any flags or lifeguards, it means the beach is closed so don’t risk a swim. But with a bit of common sense and a slathering of sun block, New Zealand’s clean, beautiful beaches are an experience not to be missed.

Note: While writing a recent article on Matador.com about What NOT to Do in Auckland, I realised that I really wanted to expand upon the information I gave regarding the west coast beaches. Since I'm now a student at the virtual campus of Matador U, I thought it'd make a great assignment topic. So, here it is. Fire away with feedback!

15 March 2010

I love...

Power breakkie!, originally uploaded by Shanti, shanti.

Natto !

(I apologise to all those whom this offends)

08 March 2010

01 March 2010

I love...

the way my city embraces Chinese New Year.

22 February 2010

I love...

jandal* days.
Please let us have a few more weeks of summer. Oh please, oh please, oh please, oh please, oh please, oh please...

*New Zealand English for flip-flops

18 February 2010


Before you can read, your discoveries revolve around bright colours, noises, touch, taste, and love. And then you get language. Language that helps you express your needs and wants. Beautiful language that allows you to understand the stories that your parents read to you before tucking you up for the night. Then you start to gain more control of language and, if you're lucky, you learn to read. When you start to read you get to add the element of wonder about those other places and people that, for now, only exist on the pages. Even when I was small I remember wanting to meet people from other cultures and go to places that I read about in books.

Before I began my life of wandering, it was language that helped me to find out what I liked and didn't like about school. It was language that allowed me to learn about myself through journalling and reading Anne Frank's Diary and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. The stories of others informed my own.

It was also language that helped me through my teenage years. Song lyrics, important scribblings on covers of notebooks about who liked whom that week, and notes to pass in class (probably also about who liked whom). These writings were crucial to me in those days. Words of dire importance that made or broke friendships.

My favourite use of spoken language in those days was to make carefully scripted yet inevitably naff videos with friends on the giant VHS recorders of the day and to talk in "outrageous French accents" as dictated by Monty Python. These silly little linguistic episodes tied some of us together for life and much of the language re-emerges whenever we converse.

Who knew then that our interest in manipulating language for a laugh would be the thing that indicated our alike-ness? Language won over career choice, political or religious views, or any of the other things people think are important. It's a pattern that has repeated itself over the years whenever I've met new people. I seem to warm instantly to people that enjoy a similar interest in manoeuvring language for effect and those are the friendships that have lasted.

I'm blessed to have been born into a situation that allowed me to take action on my dreams to explore. My love of language, my own and that of others, has been the foundation and that which has allowed me to connect.

17 February 2010

Everything is beautiful today

I had full intentions of coming home and writing something, but on the way everything just looked so beautiful today that I couldn't resist taking a few photos.

15 February 2010

I love...

Tết markets and night time flower displays.
Chúc mừng năm mới!!

11 February 2010

Trapeze lessons

I'm struggling with the need for money versus the need to feed my creative soul. I don't think I'm special. Everyone who creates in some way knows this dichotomy. Although I'm a wee bit spooked by swinging on the trapeze without a safety harness I'm about to leave the edge and do it. I've got three more weeks on the teaching contract I've taken on and then it's sink or swim. The teaching safety net is there, but it's a long way down and to be honest I'm hanging on tightly to the bar. I want to be up here. I love swinging through the air and kicking out this story and that. I love the idea of letting my stories support my life. I love the idea of doing something on my own terms without a ringmaster.

But there are people, creative ones, who've been teaching me how to hold on. I'm not sure if they even know who they are or what lessons they have taught me. Some of them are bloggers or colleagues or writers or photographers who I've been in touch with for a long time. Some of them are family or friends. Some of them are people I've met recently and have maybe even only had the briefest of interactions with. Many of them I have never met in person.

Is it in our nature to look for ourselves in others? When I find someone who holds the same things dear that I do and they are doing what I want to do, I'm inspired. I'm lifted.

She is doing this thing?

Then I can do this thing!

Lately there have been many of these people. I don't know where they are coming from or how they are finding me (or am I finding them?) but I'm extremely grateful. I'll thank each of these people in the little ways that I can, but until I can get round to all of my amazing teachers, thank you. Thank you for your the trapeze lessons that you don't even know you've taught.

08 February 2010

I love...

wooden blessings, originally uploaded by Shanti, shanti.

wishes and blessings and people thinking about other people.

01 February 2010

I love...

three day weekends that allow time for tramping through native bush to discover remote sandy surf beaches.

Happy Auckland Day!!

19 January 2010

I love...

tendrils, originally uploaded by Shanti, shanti.

nikau blooms that hang in tendrils of pink

17 January 2010

The little shiso that could

What follows is a story of seredipity. Two things I really miss from Japan are mioga and shiso. Actually there are more things, but for simplicity let's just stick with these for now. And...actually, I think I need to give up on finding mioga so...OK, here's the story.

I've been looking for shiso since we got back and really don't understand why we don't have it here since it would easily grow in our climate. I even went on an internet hunt for suppliers of rare seeds to see if I could grow my own. Happily, I did find a supplier, but before I could place an order I realised that I'm not doing very well at keeping the herbs I've got happy. Rather than buy more expensive seeds and probably not get round to propogating them in my current busy state, I sort of gave up for the time being.

I did, however put in a lovely courgette plant that a friend gave me only to find that the slugs enjoyed the entire plant before it could produce anything. Hurumph! I also planted some radishes, which I figured were low maintenance. Even though the slugs chomped holes in the leaves, most of the radishes were OK save the fact that we had a bit too much to-ing and fro-ing of spring weather and so they kind of bolted and got all woody. Whatever! I was determined and planted another row. Bear in mind that all of this is in an expansive plot of about 40cm by 80cm.

This time I dumped some coffee grounds on the soil which not only kept the slugs at bay (unless they were just too full to eat anymore, that is!), but cleared the way for a couple of random herb-y looking plants to pop up.

I stupidly pulled the first one up thinking it was a weed but then realised that the leaves looked a bit like a mint or lemonbalm. So I just let the other two be and didn't get back to check on the "garden" for a week or two. But when I did I thought the shape of the leaves looked a bit familiar. Could it be? No way...could it? I pinched one of the leaves and it smelled most definitely of shiso!

How can it be that the very thing I wanted manifested itself in my own garden despite being a rarity in these parts? I'm convinced that we often try so hard, that we don't just let the magic happen.

I'm trying hard to take this attitude to my teaching. I've just finished my first week of 5 and I'm completely and utterly knackered! Am I trying too hard? Am I forgetting to be in the moment? I'm going to excuse myself because the first week in any job is always about organising and settling in. But now that I'm planned up for most of the coming week, I'm going to try to take a step back and just enjoy being with the students and see what happens.

I'm also thinking that there's a lesson here for my writing. For the past few months I've been intensively researching the who, what, why, where and how of writing for a living. At first, I thought of this teaching gig as one of distraction from what I'm trying to do albeit a necessary one in a monetary sense. But now I'm thinking that I'm supposed to be doing this so I can distance myself from all the research, remember another facet of my identity, and just meet people. There are living, breathing people out there! There are people who hold valuable information and connections out there! People who pop up like surprise shiso plants!

There are also ideas and inspiration out there. Things I can write about. Places, people, things, Japanese herbs! Why is it so easy to feel you are in a creative space when, really you are in a rut? All the amazing books I've been reading and all the cool people I've been talking to on the internet, and even rented DVDs are inspirational. But sometimes you need to change your vantage point for just a second in order to see things more clearly and to let the surprises pop up.

12 January 2010

I love...

handmade BBQ warming up, originally uploaded by Shanti, shanti.

Homemade, bodge-it-together, barbeques.

04 January 2010

I love...

Oh happy day!, originally uploaded by Shanti, shanti.

the smell of Vegemite in the morning.

" I love Mondays " will be my new photo series. What do you think? A bit of positive thinking at the beginning of the week has never hurt anyone, has it?