Category Archives: Expat Fresh

Malaysian culture – the intertwined 3

My new destination is not a  single country , but 3 intertwined – in a very special way. In KL, I find everyone in a grand melange. In one house, a Chinese opera will be playing on the radio; in another they’re preparing for Muslim prayers; in the next, the daughter of the household readies herself for classical Indian dance lessons.

Other places I have lived, the general expectation is that I should try to fit in. Here, they switch gears, with attitude , easy demeanor, language, and make me feel comfortable. Its cool.

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Street Fever

Black and white and the many colours in between

There is a lot of passion and sincerity needed to appreciate and photograph street images. One has to capture the obvious, in absolute natural form, without pose or makeup.Its lack of sophistication gives character and distinctiveness to this form.




A certain roughness and distortion is more convincing to the eye. Clicking away gives a sense of freedom and emotionality that comes from a direct dialog with nature, places and things.



When I am looking at a photo I think what was the photographer trying to grasp, in that moment? Did he clarify in his mind what was the main area or interest in the photo that attracted him in the first place. Will his focus area translate for me?

When doing Black and white which areas are worth keeping and which are to be left out? Will other elements need to be added? More photoshop? more shades? How can the final work be made attractive?


White and black are better in many ways when the photographer is creating shadows or nuances of shades with other colors. Art Gurus say ‘Nature abhors anything absolute…including black and white, which are not seen in nature very much. Everything is a matter of degree, of many colors. White is never absolute and the same for black…so grays are the champions. The night sky is not black, but blue so deep it looks black and the white snow is so white it cannot avoid reflecting any other color.

My artist friend Stanislav Holota (Stano) was born in Slovakia. A wine trader and an accomplished photographer, Stano lives in China and has photographed daily. He has made photography a lifetime project and intends to shoot every day for the rest of his life. His work is focused on street photography, watercolour, portriats and graphics.

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My China Photobook

BOOK poster

Travel should broaden the mind but more often dilates the nostrils, depending on the destination. You don’t have to possess a big, sensitive nose to catch a whiff of the Guinness factory in Dublin, nor do you require a GPS to let you know that you have reached Guangzhou, a sprawling industrial city east of Hongkong . The schnoz will let you know you have arrived, the smell and the smoke in the alleys, the taste and the bedlam of the street Chuanr (you know those lamb kebab stick things, plus other things on sticks) vendors, barmy nights sitting on stools and relaxing (boozing) with the locals wearing their summer T-shirts (rolled up tops to reveal that ubiquitous Beer Belly).

China – land of paradox and contradiction – incredible innocence and clever twist; absolute gentleness and strictness; exquisite beauty and bitter reality; hot and cold; colour and drab, with streets lined with tubs of artificial flowers and mock grass, and dusty polluted air to breathe!
This, that has brought about a special change in me, this phase has handed over to me such tangible, real encounters that are moulding me into a new being. Some episodes have made me question my own belief system, made me debate my proud perceptions, illusions. Each day can bring a fresh learning, can teach how to struggle with realities ( absoluteness) that I didn’t know exists. I bring these forward to the readers, some thought-provoking images and questions that inspire personal, soul-searching responses, as happened to me.

I cannot speak their tongue and I cannot decipher their actions because they are so different than mine. It’s not that simple, the language and culture are so demanding and forceful that they have the capacity to unschool me. What I have learnt all the years through my school, my family, my homeland, my language, culture, the art is being challenged. “Unschooling” is an educational philosophy and practice that allows children to learn through natural life experiences. Play, games, fantasy, hobbies and social interaction are supposed to take the place of traditional schools. It doesn’t matter what the theory and philosophy, but the worldliness of this different world are definitely schooling me in a different way.

The observation and interpretations of my little mind are by no means a guide to the vast middle kingdom. Far from anything else, this is but a tribute to the chance actions, that have shaped my persona(lity), chiseled my own art. It’s a supreme opportunity to honour and make permanent my time and place in the nature of things here. While at this creative mission, I also realized that beyond my self importance, I have an obligation to try to extract the maximum from every opportunity that I stumbled upon. I am thankful that you offered to read my observations, and sincerely hope it helps to season your palette too.

Sona Ghose

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Welcome to 2012 -The Year of the Dragon

Just about, as I was still struggling with the last year’s resolutions and Lo! Another new year comes waddling by! Waddling? Did I just think it aloud? Guess it’s proof enuff that I waddled past my life this last year. Don’t seem to remember all the stuff I waddled by/through….but a few things coming to the mind,

I started my blog last year – the year of the Rabbit. Quite a nice year I have spent of my life in Shenzhen, China. Settling here, making new friends, working with expat artists, kick start my new career, getting a cookbook published, planning newer smarter things. Although my blog missed me many days, or weeks at a stretch, my work suffered hurt & embarrassment – for coworkers dropping out, dips & highs in expat life, kid, school, healthy, family, hiccupping through my deadlines. No wonder I feel I waddled through! Phew, and here we are, another beautiful winter and the CNY blast of colour & fun in the city.

According to the Chinese Zodiac, the Year of 2012 is the Year of the Dragon, which begins on January 23, 2012 and ends on February 9, 2013. Dragons are one of the favored signs of the Chinese Zodiac, which is made up of twelve animals; each animal is associated with a particular year. In addition, one of the five elements-metal, water, wood, fire and earth, are affiliated with a year. 2012 will be a water Dragon year. The Dragon is a creature of myth and legend.  In ancient China, the celestial Dragon represents an emperor and power. Today, it is the ultimate auspicious symbol signifying success and happiness.

The Dragon is a beautiful creature, colorful and flamboyant.  An extrovert bundle of energy, gifted and irrepressible. Everything Dragons do is on a grand scale – big ideas and extreme ambitions!  Because they are confident, fearless in the face of challenge, they are almost inevitably successful.

Because of all above, the maternity ward of all Chinese hospitals have a long unending waiting list. It seems many mothers will have to give birth to their Dragon child  in the expecting hospital corridors.

Long ago, the Jade emperor decided to hold a race to determine which animals should represent the 12 years of the Chinese lunar calendar. The race would go through woods and plains, including the crossing of a swift river. The cat and the rat who were good friends, realized that they were the poorest swimmers. However, they were very intelligent, and they decided the easiest way across the river was on the back of the ox. The ox being a mild-mannered creature, allowed the cat and the rat to ride on his back. In the middle of the river the clever rat pushed his friend the cat into the water, and then sprang to the shore before the ox, thereby guaranteeing the rat’s place as the first animal of the zodiac. The strong ox came next, followed closely by the powerful tiger. The nimble rabbit appeared, explaining that he had hopped across the river from stone to stone until he almost fell in, but was saved by jumping onto a log that drifted to shore. He became the fourth animal. The fierce dragon swooped in from above, breathing fire. The Emperor asked why he hadn’t come in first; the dragon replied that he had stopped to help people by making it rain, and then had seen a poor rabbit on a log in the river and had paused to blow the log to shore. The emperor was pleased by the dragon’s actions and made him the fifth animal. Just then the horse came galloping up only to rear back in fright as the sneaky snake who had curled himself around the horse’s front hoof shot ahead to be the sixth animal, leaving the horse to be the seventh. Then the ram, monkey and rooster appeared on a raft. The rooster had spotted the raft and led the other to it, and the ram and the monkey had cleared reeds and pushed and pulled the raft across the river. The Emperor awarded their teamwork by making the ram the eighth, the monkey the ninth and the rooster the tenth animals in the zodiac. Awhile later the vain dog came panting up, explaining that he had to stop and take a bath in the river after the long race. As the sun began to set, the lazy pig finally grunted into view. He had gotten hungry during the race and stopped to eat and take a nap. The poor bedraggled cat arrived too late to be included and has hated rats and water ever since.

The characteristics of the animals are reflected in the personality of those born in that year. Recent Dragon years 02/19/1904 to 02/03/1905 (Wood), 02/03/1916 to 01/22/1917 (Fire), 01/23/1928 to 02/09/1929 (Earth), 02/08/1940 to 01/26/1941 (Metal), 01/27/1952 to 02/13/1953 (Water), 02/13/1964 to 02/01/1965 (Wood), 01/31/1976 to 02/17/1977 (Fire), 02/17/1988 to 02/05/1989 (Earth), 02/05/2000 to 01/23/2001 (Metal), 01/23/2012 to 02/09/2013 (Water).

Together with my design partner Veerle,  I made a tabletop-calendar for 2012. Veerle is a lovely artist, you can check more of her art  http ://www . hildebrandt . be/cards . htm

A project to help out our expat friends enjoy a calendar with English dates, and have fun reading about chinese zodiacs.

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I need Sartorial

One of the an/other hazards of living an expat life, is the fashion scene that I have to keep coping with. It has been proved earlier enuff, that my learning generally doesn’t follow anything that can be called a curve. Guess, that goes pretty much like my personality – either I learn the ropes, or not; either a yes, or a no! This way, or that!

Simply put, I am not good at learning a little of a lot many things, and so it’s difficult to blend into a new group (where people behave or dress or eat in a similar way) group easily; I have a tendency to always stick out!

When we were in process of planning our move back to China (this time SZ city), I took out my carefully stacked mandarin learning books & worksheets. After a gap of 2 years, if anyone expected me to swing back to the sounds n tones, they got to be kidding! As expected, I was behaving deaf & dumb again; even the words/phrases I was completely comfortable with, failed me. I was wishing for some miracle to pop the words out of my mouth, when I needed………just once, ONCE, to make me feel better, to save me from humiliation, that look my spouse gives ( my company spent so much on your mandarin lessons – and u cant even convey this much!)

No sir, miracles havnt happened to me all these 39 years, I am sure miracle fairies don’t visit my side of the world, ever!

And if not speaking the language didn’t destroy my confidence, the local fashion scene very much did. Take the ferry across the border ( to HongKong) and you’ll know where all the influence is coming from! Women take their appearance very seriously here. They swear by trends, brands, cosmetics, hair salons and waist sizes.  I appreciate that, but I have none to boast of.

I must be really thick, that living in fashion conscious cities since the last 9 years hasn’t changed me much. I am reasonably well dressed when going to the supermarket or to the doctor or anywhere in public.

For sure I struggle  to not succumb to the temptation to join the slob parade –  No old sweats or baggy shorts or T-shirts proclaiming  I’m still hot. It just comes in flashes nowI am decently covered, I buy my correct size, carry a lip gloss, and wear a smile, always!  That is fashion for me. No sir again, my idea of fashion and being well dressed is way off the mark!

And this here, is sheer torture. It makes me want to weep.  My jeans aren’t tight enough, my heels not high, my clothes not trendy enough, my lips not plump enough, my hands not manicured enough, my . . . do I need to go on?  I think you get the picture.

Sadly, I will have to accept this state of  affairs because trying to jazz up my appearance would require too much witchcraft. It’ll be a task for any witch, or fairy, you bet. Maybe I should get a  T-shirt with this slogan I Took the Road Less Traveled, and Now Where the Heck Am I?

No amount of showing down will change me.  Once get  around here, I’ll find like- minded friends, like-dressed too. Or some who can understand me, and don’t mind my sartorial.

You didn’t believe earlier when I said I was thick,
Did ya?

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China on Wheels

There was a time when Beijing was the unofficial cycling 
capital of the world. The humble bike was the ideal mode 
of transport for the Chinese worker and boss alike. 
The bike probably fitted in nice with Maoist proletarian 
ideas. But, more than that, the bike was just a practical 
and cheap mode of transport for a relatively poor country. 
However, with unprecedented economic growth, the bike was 
rapidly falling out of favour as people seeked to gain the 
ultimate middle class status symbol the motor car. It was 
estimated that nearly 1,000 new motor cars hit the roads of 
Beijing every month. It was one of the most rapid rise of 
the motor car in any city.

But for all the talk of China’s growing infatuation with automobiles, 
the world’s most populous nation continues to roll primarily on 
two wheels—and, increasingly, an electric motor drives them.
There’s a powerful desire for motorized personal transportation 
in China as its cities sprawl. The electric bicycle is an 
attractive option for commuters, service people, and couriers 
(pizza delivery boyz!)
At 1500 to 3000 yuan, an electric bike is buyable at a small 
fraction of the cost of an automobile. It is also exhilarating. 
Hop on and crank the throttle, and an electric motor built into 
the hub propels you to speeds of 20 km/h or more.

first electric-bike  manufacturer, Shanghai Cranes Electric
Vehicle Co., based in the Pudong section of Shanghai.1994.
A beta test of 100 of Shanghai Cranes’prototype bikes in 1995 
revealed that a lot more development work would be needed. 
The initial models had motors that burned out in 3 months 
(the lead-acid batteries—designed to be removed from the 
bikes and taken inside for plug-in charges— no longer could
take a charge. Still, they found  the bikes a blast to ride 
and handy for carrying parcels, suggesting that a more durable 
product would  find a ready market.R& D was bound to happen in a big way!

Sales mounted by the year, and now almost 800 companies
have e-bikes with various features, to make the ride smooth
and easy.Despite the obvious appeal of electric bikes, some 
Chinese cities have banned them altogether, alleging environ-
mental drawbacks and concerns about public safety. But that 
hasn’t stopped millions from buying electric two-wheelers in 
China—an astonishing development for advocates who have struggled 
for a decade to build a market for electric bikes in the United 
States and Europe.

Well, bicycles or e-bikes or scooters or cars,
life goes in china in interesting ways.

Photos by Leonardo Correa Luna 

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In search of Stones – Kunming, China

Geologists confirm that the Stone Forest is over 270 million years old. The area used to be an ocean. During the Long Geological Period from the late Permian Period 230 million years ago to 2 million years ago, the ocean subsided and giant rocks appeared.

Exposed to rains and winds, eroded by the elements, the limestone ranges have been shaped by time. Animals, plants, and even human figurines can be found here. Some are elegant, some are rugged, and each is lifelike with its own distinguishing characteristics.

Walking through the Stone Forest, visitors marvel at the natural stone masterpieces and are bewitched by the intricate formations. The magnificent, strange and steep landscape creates countless labyrinthine vistas.

There’s a strange kind of calm around those standing stones. Although it is said that strong gales sweep out of the wind caves every 30 minutes. I touch and feel a different cool, a coolness that permeates through my arm all over me. I feel aware of the sudden moments of clarity in those darks and the lights, the lines of the horizon or trees all suspended in perfection, waiting for us to recognize and appreciate that beauty. So much patience! Just waiting there, getting chiseled each day, every moment in to something more beautiful, more serene.

I had visited the stone forest when my mind was confused, cluttered with many indecisive thoughts. At times when we are so confused I know what to do, it is better to let go, and lie still. I sit there and breathe the freshness. The air has a cleansing effect, and the stones have a healing touch. This place helped. First, there’s the grace that overtakes you when you leave your other world and get onto the bosom of nature. I often think it’s more a matter of inhaling than rendering. Then silence meets more silence. These Stones are living beings, and they sit here meditating, growing at nature’s pace, looking at the world moving on its wheels, faster with each century, getting slaved by scientific gadgets, with a growing hunger for control. It is difficult to loosen control, but once I could, if felt better.

New feelings and dramas evolve, often merely with the passage of time. Once the mind got uncluttered, I was  able to see logic in better light, I felt my own inner light moving me to say things much wiser that I knew I had in me to say. I knew things will move back into harmony. I felt the stones smiling at me. Why do they keep standing there for centuries?, waiting for us to discover them, to marvel in their beauty?, to listen to their silence, learn from it? Their patience is overwhelming to me.

Milton in his famous book ‘Paradise Lost’ wrote (in reference to god) –

“They also serve, who only stand and wait”.

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