Tag Archives: coconuts

marine-induced-semiotic-delirium

IMG_5359 Oh, ye! who have your eyeballs vexed and tired,
Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea
– Keats ‘On the Sea’

Kupang is not Kupang: it is Tangier, Barcelona, Venice, Castellorizo, Istanbul, Kas rolled into one. Day 500. Day 9 at sea. Nothing is itself anymore. Under the solvent influence of the sea memories and vistas are breaking apart, dissolving. They’ve lost their crystalline objective quality. Physical form is detached from meaning. Signifiers bear no relation to signified. Places have lost their peculiarity. Everything is the same.

To my eyes, vexed and tired as they are, everything is composed of common attributes. Nothing is unique. Even the people I meet are not themselves anymore, they remind me of people I’ve met in other places. I glance about me at the boats, the shops, the cars lining the foreshore of Kupang and I’m confronted by a queer sensation. Places have lost their unique aspect. One is the other. One stands for all. Everything is familiar and strange. I’m neither here nor there.

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75 nautical miles northwest of Kupang we pass a village in the Solor Archipelago that, for all appearances, could be my Yiayia’s birthplace on Castellorizo. The Solor village convenes in a crowded fashion around the nucleus of mosque and marina, but substitute mosque for cathedral, coconut palm for plane tree, satay for soutzoukakia, and it could be Castellorizo, could be Istanbul, could be Tangier. The configuration is different but the elements are the same: trees, shops, houses, roads, parks, schools.

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The outcrop of rocks on the foreshore of Kupang is to my eyes, Sydney Cove. The sinuous camel-hump profile of Banta Island is the Olgas. 9 days prior , off the East coast of Lombok, we passed the Wallace line, the ‘faunal boundary’ between Asia and Australia, so it’s conceivable that the coastline here was once part of the Kimberley, part of the landmass I call home. None of us are strangers. All of us are kin.

Approaching a city from the water smooths out the differences. Buildings, objects and people come into focus slowly. There’s time to recollect. As Lea steers the boat headlong into the breeze and Keith drops the pick I hold on to Richie, hoping his presence will anchor me to the moment, preventing me from drifting 14,000km to Tangier, where 16 months ago we strolled along a seafront promenade not unlike the one here at Kupang and found ourselves seduced for the first time by the grace of mosques, palms, and the heady piquancy of anonymity.

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Letter from Phnom Penh

morning coffee and newspaper, Phnom Penh

morning coffee and newspaper, Phnom Penh

My dear friend,

The heat in Phnom Penh hasn’t eased up, shows no sign of easing up. It’s only going to get hotter from here on in. Surprisingly I’m managing pretty well. The white hanky that you left behind with me is an absolute godsend. It has mopped up litres of sweat in the last few days. Invaluable. I’m going to give it a good rinse tonight. It’s already stained and dusty…

Also finding that coconut juice is the way forward for rehydration. Green coconuts are available everywhere, and some street vendors refrigerate them too, for a lovely sweet mineral-rich burst of goodness.

Everything we’ve eaten here is good. You can get a proper feed for $1.50 and a good coffee for about 60 cents. I’m keen to try one of the bizarre bean/jelly/sticky rice/sweetened condensed milk/shaved ice beverages that you see around the place from time to time. Icy cold drinks are everywhere: iced coffee, iced tea, iced sugarcane juice, iced coconut, iced beer…

fruits, jellies and crushed beans at an iced dessert stall

fruits, jellies and crushed beans at an iced dessert stall

Every tuk tuk driver and man with a motorbike wants to solicit your custom, but they’re pretty good natured and tend to accept refusals well when accompanied by a smile and a firm ‘no’. Definitely shades of India here in Phnom Penh – the smiles, the stench, the meeting of east and west, the aspiration and the liveliness. The traffic too! Mumbai mixed with Pondicherry might be the best way to describe the vibe.

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Stealing Jackfruit in Luang Prabang

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If there’s one crime that suits my disposition better than others it’s stealing fruit. In England, harvesting fruit without permission is a sport fondly referred to as ‘scrumping’. It’s a right of passage. No stigma attached. Even the prime minister would be forgiven fruit-stealing proclivities so long as he atoned by lowering the tax on apple cider.

Here on the banks of the Mekong, in a country twice removed from the grassy orchards of Somerset, there’s every chance that scrumping is an offence punishable by more than just a slap on the wrists.

The fruit that has got me wondering whether it’s ever right to steal, is none other than the king of fruits, the mighty mighty jackfruit: big as an Ox and knobblier than granny’s crochet blankets. This one’s a beauty: the fruit is roughly wombat-size, irregular, oblong, kissed with black at its extremities, and anchored to the trunk by a stem as thick and sinuous as an umbilical chord. The tree has delivered one hell of a baby!

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Thai jackfruit for sale in the market in Jinghong, China

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