friends


60_baku city mall

I absolutely loooove my Sundays.

Last week, after church service, a fellow Pinoy, let’s call him G, invited me to hang out with his friends in Baku City Mall. I’ve never been there and, well, I’m cringing as I type this, I needed sweatpants. (Yes, I’ve caved in. I’ve been freezing in the shorts and leggings that I sleep in.)

Baku City Mall in Bina, reminded me of Greenhills minus 95% of the population. The mall has several wide aisles, where each aisle focuses mainly on either shoes, women’s clothing, men’s clothing and, as you’ll find out, jackets. There were also several shops that sold household items. The quality of things sold are slightly better than Sederek Mall and the prices are also higher. A pair of sweatpants costs ten manat. I’m sure I could’ve gotten the same thing for two manat in the Philippines.

The wide aisles of Baku City Mall

The wide aisles of Baku City Mall

G, in his old jacket, posing.

G, in his old jacket, posing.

Ten minutes after arriving in the mall, G’s friends revealed the true reason for bringing him there. They wanted to buy him a new jacket! (The mastermind of this is, well, let’s call him A.)

Now Baku is a goooorgeous city. There’s the Bulvar that faces the Caspian. There’s Icherisheher which houses buildings that are hundreds of years old. It is an international heritage site. There is park after park after park which are lined with trees imported from Italy. So naturally, people want to look good. Azeris love dressing up!

G, on the other hand, is an environmentalist. He avoids using paper plates and he hopes his next adventure will lead him to Palawan, where he will be mentored by a farmer who propagates organic culture in a self-sustaining environment. In other words, G didn’t care about his three year old olive jacket with a tattered sleeve. He didn’t need a new one so he didn’t buy one even if he could afford it.

But A, a fashionable Azeri, cared. He insisted on buying G a jacket and he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. So we trudged from store to store along the jacket/winter coat aisle as I kept an eye out for sweatpants.

These were my fave men's jackets.

These were my fave men’s jackets.

Now in case you’re not familiar with Pinoy culture, we have this trait called “hiya”. We like giving things and doing things for other people, but when others give or do things for us, we feel awkward and shy about it, so our first instinct is to say “no”. So as we trudged from store to store to store, A would wave jacket after jacket in front of G, and G would say, sometimes in English, sometimes in Azeri, “I really appreciate what you’re doing but I don’t need a jacket. Thank you.”

A did not listen, perhaps because he couldn’t understand G’s tattered sleeve, or perhaps because he had a generous heart, so off we went to another store. A insisted that G try some jackets. G slightly relented and explained to A, sometimes in Azeri, sometimes in English–“We Filipinos, we like doing things for other people. But it’s hard for us to receive.”

“You don’t like this jacket,” A would say sometimes in Azeri, sometimes in English, as he pulled the jacket off G and returned it to the store owner.

“What do you think of this jacket?” A asked me as G pretended to try another black one. After an hour of saying no, G probably figured that A wasn’t going to cave in. He also probably decided that intercultural understanding trumped “hiya”. So I mentioned the store with my favorite jackets and we walked back there.

G fiiiiinally finds a jacket!

G fiiiiinally finds a jacket!

A's triumphant smile!

A’s triumphant smile!

“One of these days,” G promised as we hopped on the bus going to the center of town. “I will cook you guys pancakes.”

Dinner at Nargiz in Fountain Square.  We were all happy.  G got a new jacket. Boy I does not like buying clothes in Bina. Girl A got blue boots and pants.  Boy A found shoes and sexy gloves.  And I bought my warm and comfy sweatpants.  I love Sundays :)

Dinner at Nargiz in Fountain Square. We were all happy. G got a new jacket. Boy I does not like buying clothes in Bina. Girl A got blue boots and pants. Boy A found shoes and sexy gloves. And I bought my warm and comfy sweatpants. I love Sundays 🙂

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Manila, the city I grew up in, has a strong American influence. For many of us, English is our mother tongue. I learned how to read through watching Sesame Street. We love McDonald’s and KFC. And in the posh parts of the city we have a Starbucks coffeehouse after every three blocks. We even have Starbucks drive-thrus! Sometimes I think we love Starbucks more than Americans do.

In Baku, we have no Starbucks. But we do have the Baku Roasting Company.

49_door

A couple of weeks ago, some of my American friends (surprise surprise!) took me to the BRC and I absolutely loved it!

This morning, I took the train to the Elmler metro station. Elmler reminded me of Brooklyn with its wide streets, parks, residential buildings which look like brownstones, and stores. It also has a more laid back feel compared to the Icherisheher area.

Fountain near the Elmler Metro Station

Fountain near the Elmler Metro Station

BRC’s interior looks like Starbucks, and I mean that as a compliment.

They've got dark wooden furniture and leather couches.  They have these yellow lights that make the coffeehouse feel cozy.  They've also given the place an Azerbaijani touch through patterned tapestries and carpets.  I thought that was a good idea.

They’ve got dark wooden furniture and leather couches. They have these yellow lights that make the coffeehouse feel cozy. They’ve also given the place an Azerbaijani touch through patterned tapestries and carpets. I thought that was a good idea.

51_interior

The barristas are pretty friendly and can understand basic English. BRC has a lunch special which includes a choice of any two among a variety of soups, salads and sandwiches. It’s 7 manat for a pretty big meal. I’ve also only ordered the cafe latte and it tastes the same as Starbucks’ :).

I love their chicken barbeque salad.  It's light and delicious.

I love their chicken barbeque salad. It’s light and delicious.

Today I also ordered their Thai soup.  I'm no Thai food expert but I am familiar with some of the spices,  namely lemongrass.  I think the base was made from fresh tomatoes.  It had beef, peas and corn.  It was good, but I wouldn't call it Thai soup.

Today I also ordered their Thai soup. I’m no Thai food expert but I am familiar with some of the spices, namely lemongrass. I think the base was made from fresh tomatoes. It had beef, peas and corn. It was good, but I wouldn’t call it Thai soup.

The best part of my meal!  Cheescake!  It was worth the 4 manat AND calories!  It was creamy, a good mix of sweet and slightly sour and tangy.  The cheesecake is enough reason for anyone to go to BRC.

The best part of my meal! Cheescake! It was worth the 4 manat AND calories! It was creamy, a good mix of sweet and slightly sour and tangy. The cheesecake is enough reason for anyone to go to BRC.

But the best part of my visit was bumping into Jim from church.

52_jim

Jim is originally from California but has taught primary school in Kazakhstan and other former USSR countries for 20 years. He’s married to a lady from Kazakhstan and has two children–Masha and Vanya. He’s been living in Baku for six years.

Jim is also a Christian writer so it was good to hear about his writing ideas and the conceptual frameworks he was developing his ideas around. Besides being blessed with good conversation over coffee and cheesecake, he ended up emailing me a dictionary of Russian and English words that are the same. This will definitely help me learn Russian more easily.

BRC also has a library where people can share books. Jim ended up gifting me with his.

50_pursuit of God

A walk along the Caspian. Baku, Azerbaijan.

A walk along the Caspian. Baku, Azerbaijan.

This morning I woke up with a song in my heart.
So I’ve been in Baku,
this hidden jewel of a city
by the Caspian.
It’s been all about the dust settling down.
Work permits, getting my first graders ready.
Learning Russian. Okay so I’ve taken a hiatus but will hop back on the learning train again.
Spaseba.

It’s been all about meeting new friends,
many times, from unexpected places.

It’s been all about buying winter clothes–sweaters.
Winter hats.
These cushy tall shoes.

This morning I woke up with a song in my heart.
It’s been about waiting.
Giving second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth chances,
until there were none.

It’s been about taking long walks,
Along this polluted, damaged, devastatingly beautiful Sea.
But still, I go, walk,
drown in sky deep blue.

This morning I woke up with a song in my heart.
A song graced,
celebrating murky seas, dark valleys.
A song that skips with the highs of the Baku wind,
whistling.
A song that keeps me beneath its wing.
Warm, cushy.

I’m no expert in blogging. But the other day, a Mumbai friend, Nandi, dropped me a call. “I need some help! Are you tech savvy? How do I navigate this thing?!!”

So after school today, I hitched a ride with her seven year old son, Taj, who chattered about tooth fairies and rupees. And in her living room, with a Kingfisher in hand, I introduced Nandi to the world of tags, freshly pressed and blogrolls.

After some technology hiccups, she dug out her binder, filled with stories she had spun over her three years of living in Mumbai. Her descriptions lured me into her world of tipping bicycles, juxtaposed beggars and Brad Pitt, and a husband trying to raise his status amongst his colleagues through tiffin lunches.

She’s obviously studied how to be a writer, but that’s not what impressed me. Nandi writes with her heart. Her skill of adding unexpected twists only serves to propel her underlying message. The few stories I’ve read have a pattern. She starts with a metaphor, leaves the metaphor until it’s erased from your memory, and towards the end somehow the metaphor fades in again, unexpectedly, twisting its way into your heart, leaving you with “aha!” moments and hungry for more of her stories.

I’m looking forward to her blog launch. But more than her blog entries, I somehow picture her future novel, resting on my lap, as I’m lured into her world, Kingfisher in hand.

I started this blog in July, took a hiatus in August, and leaped back into the blogging wagon on January 2 of this year. I’ve been posting every day since, and I’m pushing myself, and just hoping I won’t stop. (Oh the backlog guilt! I still have 2 series that I haven’t finished!)

I’ve also been exploring the WordPress Site Stats section, and have been quite amused with the posts that have generated the most hits.

So, here goes–

10. Mumbai Scribbles, Day 3 — My Mumbai Scribble photos are inspired by WordPress’s Project 365. My goal is to catalog images every day that tell the story of Mumbai, a place I’m visiting, or something I’m engaged in. Cataloging images has sparked wonder in me, and it’s inspiring me to appreciate what I have every day.

9. Flounder Flops — It’s funny how this entry seems to pop up on the “how to not make flounder mushy” Google search. I haven’t found the answer, but since misery loves company, I hope that some cooks out there have discovered that they’re not the only ones with flounder flops.

8. Broccoli-Mushroom Curry and the Rat Race — I’m glad that many people have found this quick recipe. It’s a healthy no-brainer for busy people.

7. From Louie’s Kitchen: Lemon-Pepper Tilapia — I’m sure Louie would be happy to know that people have been browsing his recipe and hopefully trying them out! I’m surprised that quite a number of my recipes are on my top 10 posts. Maybe it’s time that I go back to trying at least one new recipe a week that I can share!

From Louie's facebook status update on July 14: Todays menu via the garden and friends. Tomato soup (Thanks Sacha) with Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme (Thanks Simon and Garfunkel). Maple Glazed Lemon Squash (Thanks Sacha), Cucumber/Scallion/carrot Salad, grilled Green Squash / Eggplant Sandwich on fresh Sun dried tomato/Parmigiana cheese bread (Thanks Laurie for my French bread pan, I really like it), and lemon pepper grilled talipia (Thanks fish farmers)

6. Greek Garbanzos Salad — Another healthy eat! I also bought these dishes to make my food pop out in photographs. It’s a sign! Time to generate healthy eats again!

Students representing South Africa!

5. Mumbai Scribble, Day 18: International Day — My favorite special event in school!

4. Pig Roast in Nancy’s Graduation — The fourth of July last year was one of the most beautiful days I’ve seen and experienced. This was a happy memory with B, my honey, and his family. Nancy tragically died in a car accident a few weeks before Christmas. But she didn’t die in vain. Her smile, kindness and love have left and indelible impact on thousands of lives.

Louie, Anne Marie and Nancy in the Lapp's breathtaking farm

3. Weekly Photo Challenge: Ready / Mumbai Scribble, Day 28: Kala Ghoda Festival — I love doing the Weekly Photo Challenge. It’s another venue for bloggers to share their creative ideas. I find that many of my followers discover Scribbles through this page.

2. 10 Things I Learned from Dilip D’Souza’s Travel Writing Workshop — I scribbled this entry in less than an hour. It was based on a workshop I took a couple of days ago. Little did I know that it would generate so many hits. I’m still happy to have found Dilip and the group. We’re meeting next month in either Bandra or Thane, and we need to work on our first assignment–pick two travel experiences and write an essay that connects them. What a challenge!

DD's Travel Writing Bus in Elphinstone College

Silent Noise by Saini Johray

1. Mumbai Scribble, Day 27: Kala Ghoda Festival — Never in a million years would I have thought that this photo would generate so many hits. It pops up in Google Images when you type in “Kala Ghoda Festival 2012”. I accidentally tapped into something called “Search Engine Optimization”. Thank you, Google!

In the meantime, I’m on the 10% mark of my blogging goal this year, which is to post every day.

I’m trying. Persevering. Writing. Taking photos. And posting. One day at a time.

Matheran, first stop on my bucket list, hill station of horses and rust dust.

It’s funny how when you travel, some places begin to look the same-images, terrains interspersed in my memory. Maharashtra and the Philippines have stark similarities, and Matheran reminded me of Baguio and Sagada–two hill stations and tourist attractions in Luzon, the main northern island of the archipelago which I grew up in.

Matheran was originally a summer getaway for British expatriates because of its cool weather. Baguio was declared the summer capital of the Philippines by American government officials who wanted to escape Manila’s summer heat. Matheran is now an eco-sensitive zone, which means that no cars are allowed so inhabitants and visitors can breathe fresh mountain air while hiking. For years, Sagada preserved its ecology by ensuring that visitors respected the place by keeping it clean and imposing a curfew.

There are many more parallels between India and the Philippines, mainly that we are two young countries, trying to find its identity and place in a global world. But I don’t want to bore you with my observations right now. Instead I’ll share photos from our hikes and explorations. Happy viewing!

We took a three kilometer train track hike to our hotel. I loved skipping from one metal track to another!

The famous toy train, which brings passengers from the bottom of the hill to Matheran's market place.

On our way to the hotel.

Nisha! She was like a mom during the trip, always looking out for our safety. She reminds me of my Tita Dolly. She was such a darling and I can't wait to see her again 🙂

Teams of horses galloped beside us.

Mukesh, the hotel owner! He is C's friend and he completely took care of us! He got me a birthday cake and set up a bonfire during the evening. I love Indian hospitality!

Ruins on the way to Sunset Point

Sunset Point

Breakfast was the yummiest parathas I've ever tasted! It was soft, not oily, fresh and flavorful.

A friend, J, recommended we stay in this hotel. We didn't get to stay overnight but from the brief visit, it looked very pretty.

Forest in the Verandah hotel

Echo Point!

A rickshaw driver taking a much deserved break.

Guavas for sale!

K bought souvenirs from the market. Methinks the Hindi word is "chikki". The Filipino word is "pasalubong". I ate one pasalubong that tasted exactly like a Filipino peanut pastry sweet. Bye, Matheran! I'm happy I was able to visit and savor your beauty for a weekend!

Matheran, first stop on my bucket list, hill station of horses and rust dust.

This is a quick chronicle of the zipline in Echo Valley. Or maybe not.

K, my cultural translator. My friend.

Born in Ethiopia. Formative years: Dubai. Married to a Gujarati, now moving. Moving, swimming, sailing, flying pass the Arabian Sea. Past our beloved subcontinent, landing underneath the sunny blue skies of the West Coast.

Today she once again patiently explains the intricacies of Indian society. Tightrope of layers. Social norms, for some chains. Chains that need to be snipped. Cut. So she can see the other side.

Last Saturday, she took her first long drive, hands clenching wheel. Careful. Planned. Determined. Strategic.

On this day, she mounted the zip line, eyes taking in the deep jagged ravine. She, held up by an invisible hand.

But she crossed the valley. Zip-lined it, in fact. And saw the other side.

And she will cross many more valleys. Zip-line them, in fact. And see the other side.

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