Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Dar Es Salaam - Morning


(Dar Es Salaam by Richard Peirce - A Tongues and Grooves Project: poems by local poets who perform regularly at the Florence Arms in Portsmouth UK, set to music by Philly and visualised by Kino Cult)

FreeImages.com/Jeff Knepper

Dar Es Salaam - Morning
A gecko ornaments the whitewashed wall.
A ceiling fan cools my skin.
The gabble of the cleaning women
unfamiliar sound to my European ear
draws my attention 
through the mesh-covered window
where chattering finches 
fuss among the acacia blossom
that spills through the razor wire 
coiled along the wall.

Time slows 

to the rhythm 
of the fan 
and the featherstroke 
of your breath 
on my neck.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Bus Station at Ubon Ratchathani

It looked familiar as I stepped down onto the sunbaked concrete. The single line of coach parking. The platform with rows of seats, food stalls. Where the public phone had been, there was now a blank wall.


The experience was the same as eight years before, but this time I was prepared. The tuk tuk drivers crowded round, some shoving to the front, others hanging back. The more in my face someone chooses to be, the more I tend to be disinclined to consider their services. Adopting the detached mask and unfocused eye of a Tai Chi practitioner, I slowly moved through the bustle, pick up my rucksack which was already deposited on the ground by the bus driver and walked away - anywhere - but away. 

My companion, Greg, apparently looked like a better bet, but the reverse baseball cap and macho stance of the driver, posturing, close up, cut less than no ice with him. May, our Thai co-traveller, intervened, but with a clear message from Greg that if a tuk tuk it was to be, it had to be anyone other than the pushy man before us. We were a little surprised when, after a brief exchange, May had turned on her heels, walked away to the other side of the station platform and was opening a taxi door. We followed with the bags and were soon pulling out onto a busy road, heading into the city. This was May's home town and we relaxed in her capable hands as she engaged the driver in laughing conversation. 

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Twenty-five thousand days

Alone for the first time in a month of my Asian travel, I sat in the small garden restaurant across the street from the condo. Last night my travel companions had raised a glass to my twenty-five thousand days on the planet.

I finished the meal of khao pad moo and pak boong fai daeng (pork fried rice and greens with chilli).

The second bottle of Beer Lao eased the pain in my knackered foot.

The waxing moon was within hours of its perigee, closer to Earth than at any time since I was five months from entering this wondrous world.  

King Bhumibol the Great, Rama IX had been less than two years into his reign. The National Health Service was not yet begun. A catastrophe was about to unfold on a peaceful people in the Middle East. 

One John R. Pierce was soon to suggest a name for a new device, the transistor, that would eventually lead to the transformation from fifty ton valve computers to the small laptop and smartphone sitting on my table.  So I had flown ten thousand kilometres to sit in an atmospheric local eatery in an exotic country - and what was I doing with these amazing tools?  Scrolling through a day's Facebook posts.

I was rescued from my banal idleness by a small lizard, taking a chance against discovery, that darted out from under a kitsch table ornament to check out the remains of my meal. 

The ascending moon lit  the silvern scene.  If that was not enough to nudge me into a greater consciousness, a yellowing leaf fluttered onto the keyboard, followed by another. 

No more tapping or scrolling tonight. It was time to wake up.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016


การไว้ทุกข์ - Mourning
On the death of the king, Thailand, October 2016

At sunset over the water meadow
buffalo settle - an occasional bellow.

Geckos chup-chup-chup
to a crescendo of cicadas.

The cockerel waits 
for its moment and

flitting bats 
are silent to my ear

A doleful bell and evening chant 
for the people's beloved king.

There is no comfort 
in the Land of Smiles.

Roi-et, Thailand, 31 October 2016

Monday, 17 October 2016

On Lad Phrao Road

On the death of Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 
the world's longest-reigning monarch.

In the market place
the rails are awash
with black. They knew 
this day would come.

The 7 Eleven store 
has a No Sale sign 
on the beer fridge door
but Coca-Cola is OK

An eatery discretely serves
a Chang Classic
to a solitary Farang
who updates his travel blog

before a slow walk
back to his room. 
On the footbridge,
a young woman

a few coins in a plastic cup.
Her infant looks out 
at the traffic below,
child of a new reign.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

The sociable restaurateur

Lured to the Nazar Börek restaurant by the thought of gözleme (savoury pancakes), I can't find them on the menu. I choose instead a main course of saҫ tava, a metal plate of fried, diced meat, peppers and garlic with fresh tomato and parsley, suspended over flames. The food is excellent. The red wine is as smooth and elegant as its name.

At first, I am the only customer in the small, unassuming arched interior, but a couple arrive, soon followed by a handsome group of young French men and women.  Reverse baseball capped man spots my flaming, sizzling plate and presents a questioning thumbs up. I respond with an affirming thumb, though some authoritative sources assert that this would have meant a swift despatch for the gladiatorially defeated in ancient Rome.

The owner, Refik, fluent in several languages, takes time to chat about the local wine. He reveals his plan for another restaurant with a different style, but this is perfect for me this evening.

The music varies from traditional Turkish to hip and cool French tracks for his other guests. Dancing and drumming is required.

Click on the link: http://youtu.be/h5TjLVQVCZ4

Friday, 30 August 2013

The barber of Göreme

The sign on the wall said "Berber" and an arrow directed me round the corner. I found it soon enough. Inside, a boy of about eight years greeted me and ushered me to a seat. I remained standing.

"How much for a shave and haircut?" I asked. 

He seemed to understand my request. "Fifty". 

"Too much." I replied and moved towards the door. He looked anxious and barred my way with raised, but placating hands. With no one else in sight, for a few seconds, I entertained the thought that barbers started young in Göreme. Then, amongst his words I picked up "patron" several times and inferred that he was an apprentice or shop minder and that I should await the arrival of the boss. I said "OK" and sat down. The boy then scooted out the door. A minute later a man appeared with the youth in tow.

We negotiated ten lire for a shave, twenty for a haircut and I sat down, banishing all thoughts of Sweeney Todd as my face was carefully lathered. As I sat with a beard of foam, the boy watched intently, gave me a reassuring massage on my shoulder and responded to instructions from the patron. I was shaved once, twice without the slightest nick. Hair was washed and expertly cut. I was relaxed. 

Then came the pitch. A facepack, only ten lire. Seemed ok. Then green goo that I thought was hair conditioner was produced for my 'broken' hair. Now my guard was down and I acceded without checking the price. The goo was applied. While my ears were singed with flaming cotton buds, a call from the street distracted the barber and he lingered a split second too long on my left lobe. I recoiled from the pain. Then hot wax was applied, ripped off and I realised that this attention was not going to come cheap. Twenty minutes and a massage later I was a new man. I was shocked to see in the mirror that the conditioner, in reality, had been dye.

I stood up. "That's a hundred" the barber smiled.

I left the shop, hair darker, pockets lighter.

I thought wistfully of Jean Rochefort as Antione, in Patrice Leconte's La mari de la coiffeuse watching Anna Galiena as Mathilde, sitting in the barber's shop window. I yearned for those moments of intense fulfilment - to be a hairdresser's husband, to be at one in the now and beyond life itself.