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 šŸ™‚

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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

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.

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.

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

It was my birthday last Saturday. To celebrate the day, as well as my last five months in Mumbai, K, N, C and I drove up to Matheran. On our way, C our navigator and guide (and what a knowledgeable guide he was!), recommended that our fist pit stop be at Lucky’s Korner, an outdoor restaurant near Karjat.

The food and service were heavenly! Here are some of our mouthwatering orders–

Reshmi kebab. Soft, juicy, tangy. It was a perfect kebab!

The garlic naan went very well with the kebabs. They reminded me of yummy thin crust garlic pizzas!

My two signature drinks--lemon juice and chai with cardamom, ginger and milk. I'll definitely miss the Indian lemons and chai, which I somehow can't replicate, when I leave India.

The food was very reasonably priced, around 150 to 250 rupees per main course, and the restaurant was clean, a must for me.

The service unexpectedly rivaled fine dine restaurants! The waiters were very attentive. They changed our plates as needed, and they were enthusiastic. They genuinely seemed to enjoy serving their customers. Our head waiter, gave us excellent recommendations for dishes and was excited to show off Lucky’s renowned tandoor oven.

This is a tandoor oven. It's a hole dug into a counter and it's where many breads and chicken are baked. It's what gives chicken tandoori, kebabs and rotis a distinct smokey taste that is difficult to replicate in other ovens.

All in all, it was a very memorable meal. Not just because of the food and service, but also because of good company! Nothing beats traveling with easy going people who know their way around and are excited to share and explore!

C, our navigator and K, our first time long distance driver! Good job, K!

I’ll share more about the hikes in Matheran in future posts.

Do you have any travel stories that you would like to share? I’d love to hear from you!

In the meantime, if you would like to visit Lucky’s Korner, you can call them at–
9921841414
9881764964
9273127314

Last Sunday was a perfect Sunday again. I had a chance encounter in the Goregaon East train station, and I was very blessed to hear God’s message shared through Pastor Conrad. To cap it off, I met two Pinays in church–Arlene and Annabelle.

It was nice to have a little piece of home in a strange land, see warm smiles that reach twinkly eyes, and listen to our sing song accents with Tagalog words interspersed with English, a singsong accent that soothes the heart and warms the soul, and gently pulls me back to my archipelago, with its salt breeze air and the rumbling murmurs of jeepneys.

Outside the St. Andrew's Church where we have service. From left to right: me, Lynette, Pastor Kevin, Annabelle and Arlene.

I was eager to share a little piece of Mumbai with Arlene and Annabelle. Whenever I have Pinoys visit me, I take them on my personal Mumbai darshan, i.e. a Mumbai tour. But perhaps I’ll save those travel stories for another time. One of my Mumbai darshan stops is Delhi Darbar, which is a five minute walk from St. Andrew’s in Colaba.

Dehli Darbar serves authentic Mughlai cuisine. Unfortunately, I am not an Indian food expert. I was just telling my friend, K, yesterday that whatever Indian food I liked before coming to live in India, is still the same food that I like. So much for food exploration!

Arlene, Annabelle and I started off our meal with masala papad. The roasted papad is made from ground lentils. It is salty and a healthy alternative to chips and salsa.

On this Sunday, their chicken tandoori was a bit dry but it is usually very good. It’s chicken that’s marinated in spices and baked in a tandoor oven. This chicken tandoori comes with tomatoes, coriander and spices on the side, much like the masala on top of our papad.

We ate our chicken with vegetable biryani. The top of the pot is full of rice but at the bottom they put something moist and slightly spicy. It is very delicious.

We ended our meal with my favorite Indian dessert–kulfi! It is ice cream made from condensed milk and cardamom. It tastes exactly like a Filipino sweet called pastillas de leche in ice cream form. It was a literal melt in your mouth dessert!

I was about to pay for the meal when Annabelle grabbed my wallet and wouldn’t return it to me. Arlene and her insisted on paying for it. Again, another Pinoy trait šŸ™‚

I dropped them off at the corner of Colaba, where they would continue their city trek and shop for trinkets to give away to relatives and friends back home. We hugged and said our goodbyes outside the junk jewelry shop and I faded into the sea of tourists.

Thank you Arlene and Annabelle, for a wonderful Sunday! Hope you are enjoying the rest of your stay in India! Post photos!

I love trains. Train stations. Train stories.

Over the years I’ve met and shared pizza with an Irish filmmaker in the New York green line. I’ve listened to supernatural war stories set in Pakistan, voiced by a 74 year old Indian man, as I bunked from New Delhi to Mumbai. Another time, I met two strangers as I tried to sleep from Mumbai to Pune. They ended up being the organizers of the famous Sunburn Festival in Goa. We ended up clubbing in Pune, their excuse to do marketing research for a prospective club they wanted to launch.

But perhaps I’ll elaborate on those train stories another time.

Today, I lined up in the Goregaon East Station to buy a ticket to Churchgate. Raptaptap on my shoulder, and when I turned around it was one of the special educators in school.

Sacha, I have a train coupon. All we have to do is punch our train ticket in the machine, and you can go to Churchgate, she explained.

She didn’t accept the eight rupee payment I wanted to shove in her hand. And her and her sister, Ami, they were kind enough to sit with me in the train. They on their way to the Mahalaxmi race track. I, on my way to St. Andrew’s.

Sorry for the fuzzy photo, Ami!

The train ride was short. The conversation pleasing. The type you don’t want to end.

Ami is a freelance commercial photographer and her college focus was on Mumbai heritage buildings. She is an expert in Mumbai architecture.

It is my last six months in Mumbai. I am hungry to explore the city, I mentioned.

We agreed to meet again. In Dhobi Ghat. In Dharavi. In Crawford Market.

 

When I got home, I typed in the url that Ami had left me. Her photos are clear. Crisp. Good composition. I can’t wait to go on photo walks with her.

But as I click the x on my web browser, I can’t help but think that this is the Mumbai I want to remember. Her with her kind and generous people, a people who love her back.

A people who are proud of their beautiful city.