Friday, July 28, 2006

Knowing when it's time to duck out the back for a wash

In a couple of days, the Donkeys are going to be taking their first trip out of Delhi in five months. I feel a great enthusiasm for this weekend retreat … we’ve been trying to get tickets on a train out of Delhi all Summer, but those ticket sellers, peculiarly dressed as they are in lab-coats, seem unable or unwilling to bend their alchemic skills towards conjuring up a couple of valid railway tickets for us. Every weekend, the trains are full of people attempting to escape the heat, and although the monsoon has arrived and it’s no longer 45 degrees at midnight, it’ll still be great for us to get up into the Himalayas and breathe some semi-clean mountain air.

I sense that this journey might also be the beginning of a new outlook on life in Delhi. All the stars seem to be moving towards some pleasant horizons; the weather has begun to cool, as I mentioned, the local swimming pool has started to empty of fat Punjabi bellies around which one must negotiate with each lap, and I may actually get paid for my work soon as moves are afoot to ensure that I am legally allowed to work in this country. So I’m feeling positive.

But as I look towards a more positive future, my Catholic up-bringing forces me also to dwell, with considerable guilt, on the past five months, and particularly on my conduct as I tried to deal both with this often incredibly frustrating environment, and with an ever-increasing feeling of uselessness.

You see, ever since I was old enough to start making my own decisions, I somehow always tried to live my life such that I was contributing to society in some kind of useful or meaningful way. At times this commitment to a vague greater good, amongst some circles at least, had me leading a kind of secret double life, contrasting significantly with the drunken, irresponsible escapades which left some who weren’t in the know to view me as a complete waster!

As the years have passed, the causes have changed, but always there has been a large part of me that is prepared to give, in order to justify to myself what I would take. I reckon it’s always been a pretty even split, too, ‘cause generally what I’ve taken is knowledge and experiences about people, about places and about the world.

And then I found myself in Delhi, where every day for three months, I sat in front of a computer applying for jobs; where every day for three months, I offered my talents and skills to anyone who might have use for them, and in return, I asked for nothing more than to take what I needed.

Unfortunately, this being the land where even the street sweepers have an MBA, it was not so easy to stand out, and as each day slipped by with narry a response from prospective employers, so too did my self esteem slip away. In hindsight, the most devastating thing was not that I was being overlooked for work, it was a feeling that I was becoming some kind of freeloader; some kind of loafer, because every day that I was not working; everyday that I was at home, sitting in front of the computer, was a day in which I took from India, without giving anything useful back … to anyone.

I cannot describe how terrible and how ugly this was making me feel. With each fruitless day, the ugliness grew so that it was not merely an internal blemish … it soon came to taint my every thought and word, until my behaviour began to reflect that ugliness such that I was hurting those around me who were trying to help and support me; those who deserved it least.

Looking back, it seems farcical that I should have behaved as I did after only a short three month period … perhaps it has helped me to recognise in some small way, just how useless the long-term unemployed must feel, and just how much damage people and the media do by accusing them of being lazy and a burden to society!

So in a couple of days I will head to Haridwar; the town where the sacred Ganga River leaves its birthplace in the Himalayas and enters the plains, and where thousands of Hindu pilgrims flock each year to bathe in the spiritually healing water. I’ve been there before - eight years ago, I spent two hours walking around that remarkable town between train connections. They were two very enjoyable hours during a two month pilgrimage of my own that saw me grow considerably as a person. I still remember a certain positive, or perhaps healing energy in Haridwar, and I wonder, indeed with some measure of hope, if I will again feel and grasp that energy which seemed to stay with me for so many years, ironically only just running-out about the time that I arrived back in this remarkable land.

So was it real, or am I just romanticising? Is there such a thing as spiritual, or mind and body rejuvenation? My insecurities tell me that, eight years ago, I was 24, single and free from responsibilities … and that of course it would seem like one place or experience could change your outlook and make you feel so much better about your entire life. My insecurities tell me that I’m now much older; that I’m married and that I can’t afford to be so carefree. But could my mind be playing evil tricks on me; feeding my insecurities with porkies? Could Donkey’s mind in fact be wrong? Now that I’m working and contributing to society, and now that things seem to be on the up, Mrs Donkey tells me I was wrong to feel the way I did before … so I guess it’s possible that my mind could be a bit dodgy. I guess we’ll see…

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The misty origins of DonkeyBlog, Part II: Zen and Blogging

If a Blog entry is posted,
but no one is able to view it,
was it ever really posted?

Some friends of mine recently travelled to an area of India where they hoped to hook-up with some pundits, or Holy Men, whose lives’ work, and indeed that of all their ancestors, is to compile the familial history of everyone in the world, and place that detailed information onto one of many billions of ancient, intricate scrolls. Millions of pilgrims visit them each year to learn about their past lives, and, more usefully, to learn about how their actions and mistakes in past lives can be learned from, and the lessons used to guide their actions in this one.

Clare and Dan’s excitement at their impending adventure got me to thinking about what I could possibly learn from my own past lives, and indeed I wondered what my past lives could possibly have involved. I guess karma, which dictates various rises in wealth and importance with each incarnation (let’s face it, I haven’t come very far), and the law of averages, probably points towards my familial history as featuring extreme poverty and dung for dinner, but still one likes to fantasize about what contribution one may have made to the development of the modern era.

To be honest, I couldn’t think of myself as ever having been much of a monarch, aristocrat, military leader or wealthy merchant, and I was very willing to resign myself to simple serf or landless vagabond, until the events of this week made me realise that I am from far more politically influential stock than I could ever have imagined …

“Excuse Me, are you the Czar?”
“Well yes I am, actually”
“BANG! Take that, Fascist! That’s what happens when you’re not working class!”

That’s right, my ancestors were freakin’ revolutionaries! The Bastille, Russia, Cuba … the Donkeys were there at all of ‘em. And how do I know this?

Well my Dear Blog-surfers, last week, if you were logging onto this Blog from anywhere outside India, absolutely nothing would have appeared amiss (except perhaps the fact that the internet actually provides a forum for this kind of dribble), but if you were living here with me, or trying to access this from anywhere within this country, you would have been aware that DonkeyBlog had been blocked by the Indian Ministry of Communications.


Clearly, DonkeyBlog’s bashing-out some pretty racy stuff that’s just a bit too hot for the Bourgeois down at the Ministry of Communications to handle, and obviously DonkeyBlog’s cutting-edge social commentary is too irresistible for India’s impressionable youth to pass by! Not surprisingly, those Indian Government capitalist pigs with their snouts in the trough were quite-rightly shitting themselves as they realised the potential of the situation; after all, what are they going to do when The Kids get wind of all this free-thinking; all these radical ideas? That’s right, before you know it … Revolution!

So they tried to block me out, but you can’t keep a Social Freedom Fighter down for long. The media frenzy that Donkey stirred-up over this one was so intense, that the ol’ MoC picked-up their act pretty quick smart. There’s another one for The People!

So you see, Che, Karl, Vlad and Donkey … we’re all of the same stock! We’re all … y’know … Comrades!

Thanks to Ben Elton's The Young Ones, for the photo and the lines.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Meat Lover’s Guide to the Bedroom

I’m no carnivore … in fact, for many years now, I’ve been quite a fan of throwing together a meatless dish. I’m no vego either; many’s the time that I have moved heaven and earth to wrap my big, Donkey lips around a tender morsal of juicy, prime Vanuatu beef! Mmmmm. Yeah, I do love a good, medium-rare steak, or a succulent, heavily-spiced lamb souvlaki dripping in garlic sauce, or a nice fat, ham steak, or eggs and bacon.

Mmmm, meat. I love it, but I’ve never been one who always has to have it, and given that Mrs Donkey and I often find ourselves living in places in which one would be ill-advised to eat the meat, we have developed an appreciation for, and certain skills in vegetarian cooking which have provided us with an appetizing array of dishes for every night of the week. Couscous and spiced egg plant, risotto with wild mushrooms, capsicum with tangy, cherry tomato innards, pasta with tuna and fresh salad (I know, technically not vegetarian, but if you ask me, there has to be fragrant red blood dripping all over your kitchen bench before it can earn a meat classification) and my all-time favourite, lentil curry.

So how does a young Donkey, from good, honest, suburban, meat-and-three-veg stock come to appreciate, and learn how to cook vegetarian food? Well they say that necessity is the mother of invention, and Donkey hasn’t always had a lovely wife with whom he could retire to the knackery at the end of a long day. There was a time when, unless lonely-old Donkey bucked-up his game a bit, he was gonna find it pretty tough to snare himself a frolicking she-Donkey amongst the cut-and-thrust world of the farm-yard meat market!

And so there came a time in Donkey’s young adult life when necessity became the mother of all re-invention. It was clear that the comic books and Mad magazines would have to go (at least for a couple of years, anyway … they could be brought out again once the deal was signed and sealed), to be replaced with National Geographic and The Economist. The Star Wars action figures would have to step aside for statues of Buddha, incense and CDs entitled The Mystical Land of Tibet: the Chants of the Shaoqui Monks, and the David Eddings novels would have to make way for Homer and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A good knowledge of fine Australian wines was certainly in order (enter The Age Wine Guide – here’s a tip, you get 33% off if you buy it at K-mart), and that wardrobe was going to need a complete overhaul (but don’t worry, it would still be alright for your Mum to buy your underwear!).

So there I was, 23 years old, and a new Donkey. I was ready to hit the social circuit for experimentation in lerve and, more to the point, the procurement of a she-Donkey accessory! The only problem was, when I jumped on the merry-go-round, I noticed that all of the other asses were also dressed in iron-free Chinos and Rivers shirts, spouting their opinions about politics in the Middle East and dropping into conversations the recent find of undiscovered tribes of Aymara Indians in the mountains of Peru. They were all greeting the she-Donkeys with “Hey, peace sister”, and they were big on arguments concerning the merits of ancient poetry versus modern literature. And I’ll be the first to admit that ordering wine at a restaurant was a ridiculous shit-fight as every young, eligible bachelor tried to one-up the other in an effort to order the best Rutherglen had to offer for the bemused fillies who invariably didn’t get their first drink until 9pm!

It was crazy, and very disheartening. All the money and time I’d put into reinventing myself, and it was no good. I didn’t offer anything unique and I was missing Han Solo and Chewbacca terribly! I needed to be different, but in such a way that I was still cool (ie: the same as everybody else; wouldn’t want to look like a freak now). I needed something more … an edge. What was a young SNAD to do in order to stand out from the crowd, while still blending in? What to do? I needed to consult someone, so I asked some discreet questions in the changing-room one day after training – I got nothing but some odd looks and the tightening of towels around wastes. I went to the newsagent for a copy of Cosmo, but all the other young male Donkeys had beaten me to it (in those days we Donkeys didn’t have the benefit of consulting that fine social journal, Ralph!). I was going to have to take a spiritual journey. I was going to have to find myself an edge!

And so I travelled to the far-east looking for answers. Unfortunately, after two days spent incarcerated in an LA prison for arriving without a visa, I learned that for we antipodeans, the far-east was actually west! Eventually, I landed in India; land of mystique and the birthplace of spiritual enlightenment.
And there, in a relatively short time, while all the Israeli backpackers were up in the monasteries and ashrams of Shimla and Dharamsala searching for their inner selves, I was with my mate Ken, stoned off our heads after two hours in a Government-approved hash-shop, finding my new spiritual enlightenment, my new secret weapon in the ‘War on Loneliness’ in the form of an authentic lentil curry.

This was it! Talk about Nirvana! I’d done it. I’d found my ‘edge’. Right-o then, I’m off home immediately to dazzle a she-Donkey with my new, unique skills in Indian vegetarian cooking. I’m going NOW … or perhaps I’ll just finish these cookies…

Six weeks later, after we’d dragged ourselves from the hash-shop, I was in the kitchen at Glennie cooking up a storm. After a few days, with my technique down, and I was ready. Bang! I was back on the merry-go-round and looking for some action … but hang-on, where had everyone gone? And there it was … What a schmuck! While I was off finding my ‘edge’ in the hash kitchens of Varanasi, all the other Donkeys had broken into the farm shed and had gorged themselves on the oats! As you can imagine, I was devastated. What was a poor young Donkey to do? My new-aged Indian clothes may have sent the sniffer dogs at Melbourne Airport into a frenzy, but they barely registered a blip on the radar of the now-taken she-Donkeys. All I had going for me was a mean repertoire of vegetarian dishes, but they were useless unless I could find someone to take home to my (read “my Mum’s”) kitchen. I was doomed to a life of loneliness unless … unless I took my kitchen to a place where the she-Donkeys were not only desperate and available, but where a spicy lentil curry was a highly sort-after commodity.

I packed up my stuff, and set-off for the gastronomic wasteland of Samoa. Three weeks it took me, but the smells of Donkey’s kitchen eventually lured the unsuspecting Miss Donkey to my door. A couple of weeks and a mountain of turmeric, coriander and cumin later, I’d done it. What an ‘edge’; a strike-rate of 100%!

Unfortunately I am now learning the lesson that she-Donkeys might well be dumb enough to be lured into marriage with mere tricks, but unless you can maintain that ‘edge’, and keep them satisfied in the kitchen department, it doesn’t take them long to start losing interest. Poor ol’ Donkey has put all his eggs in one basket and now he finds himself, new wife in tow, back in the land of lentil curries. No one, not even a bewitched she-Donkey, wants to tuck-into a lentil curry three times a day, and the pressure is on yours truly to expand my culinary repertoire. I’m very rapidly discovering that here in this land where meat in the summertime is definitely a no-go zone, and couscous and pasta are wearing just a little too thin, the options for maintaining a fruitful marriage are very, very limited indeed. What’s a Donkey to do? No meat, no interest in lentils, no Australian wine with which to bedazzle with my limitless knowledge, and definitely no Cosmo to consult for answers. The weather ahead looks very stormy indeed for Donkey … what am I going to do? Maybe I’ll start with a change of wardrobe … “Mum, can you send me some new undies?”


Definitely a good excuse to go vegetarian. Photo: Sally

Friday, July 21, 2006

If it's not on, then it's just not on!

Found this today on the India National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) website ... I cacked myself for about 2.5 seconds!

Q. Are health care workers at risk of getting HIV on the job?
Ans. The risk of health care workers getting HIV on the job is very low, especially if they carefully follow universal precautions (i.e., using protective practices and personal protective equipment to prevent HIV and other blood-borne infections). It is important to remember that casual, everyday contact with an HIV-infected person does not expose health care workers or anyone else to HIV. For health care workers on the job, the main risk of HIV transmission is through accidental injuries from needles and other sharp instruments that may be contaminated with the virus...

Well, I think the message is clear ... it doesn't really matter who you are or what you do ... if yer "on the job", you better "slip the mute on the flute!"

Sorry, it's Friday.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Evolution: Only the truly petty creatures get left behind!

At this time of day, when the sun drops behind our building, the squirrels come out and start their gravity-defying dance up and down the back wall and across the power lines. I should clarify that this is not the first time we see them each day – oh no! They also like to be up and about early in the morning, and they particularly like to sit on the window-sill of the bathroom, and screech, ”Good Morning, Donkey! Good Morning, Donkey! Good Morning, Donkey! Good Morning, Donkey! Good Morning, Donkey! Good Morning, Donkey!”

Aaaaaaaaargh! “It’s not freakin’ morning, it’s 5am! That’s the middle of the bloody night, now piss-off you little bastards!” I bellow, but unfortunately I can’t speak ear-piercing squirrel, and they can’t understand Donkey, so the only way to actually shut them up is to get out of bed, go into the bathroom and shoo them away by rattling the bars on the window. BUT, because it’s 5am (did I mention that this happens at 5a-freakin’-m?), I generally can’t be arsed getting up, and so they continue to screech, “Good Morning, Donkey! Good Morning, Donkey! Good Morning, Donkey! Good Morning, Donkey!”, and I yell back “It’s not freakin’ morning, it’s 5am! That’s the middle of the bloody night, now piss-off you little bastards!”, and they say “Good Morning, Donkey! Good Morning, Donkey! Good Morning, Donkey! Good Morning, Donkey!”, and I yell … anyway, you get the picture. Basically, our day starts with me in a shitty mood, and Mrs Donkey with an earful of obscenities.

But I digress (Surprise! Surprise!). At this time of the day, our little, fluffy-tailed ‘friends’ are all out there, running up and down the walls, skirting along the power lines, and I’m usually crouching down on the back balcony, hiding behind a chair or the air-conditioning unit. Basically, I’m lying in wait for one of these little pains-in-the-arse to wander by, and when they least expect it, I’ll jump out with a loud cry in the hope that I’ll give him a fright and cause him to fall off the wall, branch or power line! I’ve been trying to do this every day for the last four months, and it hasn’t yet worked, but I reckon I’m getting my technique down pretty well, and I’m expecting success soon. Actually, on the basis of this success rate, I figure that I should be able to effectively cull the squirrel population out the back of our house such that I will be able to count on a sleep-in on the last weekend of our two year posting here in Delhi. And to me, the promise of that uninterrupted slumber will be worth the endless hours of joint pain, muscle cramps and haemorrhoids that I endure from sitting silently and unmoving on the hard concrete floor.

So anyway, I was out there today, crouching in wait, and watching this squirrel coming towards me along the power line. Every two or three steps, he would stop and let out a high-pitched screech, but what I noticed this time, which I hadn’t ever noticed before, is that each time one of these little buggers lets out a piercing shriek, their tail jumps up into a vertical position like some real-life, albeit fluffy exclamation mark! It was bizarre! All of a sudden I noticed that each one of these little furry trouble-makers seems to have this weird, arse-mouth connection going on which makes their tails shoot up in the air whenever they say anything.

How would that be? Every time you opened your mouth, as your jaw moved up and down, your bum-cheeks would clench. You can imagine that for some people, that would give their arse quite a workout. Radio announcers, school teachers, public speakers … their bums’d be incredibly taught; like a couple of giant walnuts in a pair of Speedos!

Crikey! What would it mean for those of us who enjoy the comfort and support of a g-banger? Just a single friendly argument about politics or religion would result in that already flimsy lifeline being subject to a horrible pounding. Each convincing comment about, for example, the legitimacy or otherwise of The Da Vinci Code, would see that important, supportive strand becoming pulverized, and more and more frayed with every impassioned declaration that Audrey Tautou really is Jesus’ daughter (No arguments from me there!).

And what about the work cocktail party? Imagine having to deal with the snapping of that essential guy-rope (no pun intended) while you're half-way through a conversation with the boss’ wife. Just think of it, you’re smiling and banging-on to a glamorous millionairess about migratory ducks in Eastern Europe and at the same time surreptitiously reaching into your pocket in an attempt to steady a couple of bouncing testicles which have suddenly been dislodged from their comfy hammock like a couple of deadly stones hurled from David’s sling towards an unsuspecting Goliath! (hey, that’s quite a good pun). It’d be horrible, and certainly not an easy thing to pull-off (sorry, another pun … sorry, that was bad). It could certainly be a career-breaker, or at best, expose you to a number of very embarrassing social questions.

So as I sat there, waiting for that little ball of fuzz to come just a bit closer, and squirming in frustration every couple of seconds as he stopped and screeched with his tail pointing to the heavens, I reflected that we humans have certainly evolved compared with these little critters. Sure, we can’t walk up and down walls or along power lines, but (perhaps with the exception of John Howard), our arses are no longer connected to our faces! And that can only be a good thing!

Sorry, no photos of squirrels, so it was either Audrey or John Howard, and I know which one I'd rather look at. Photo: Yahoo! Movies

Friday, July 14, 2006

Saggy, Baggy King of the Road

You know that scene from The Empire Strikes Back in which Luke’s snow-speeder crashes and he has to reach into the back to grab his light-sabre before the Imperial Walker stomps on top of him? The camera shows a close up of the metallic foot as it’s about to come down on top of the young Jedi-to-be, but thankfully for the peace of the galaxy, Luke gets away just in time.

I guess I’m not the first person to recognise just how much attention to detail these Star Wars producers dedicated to their craft, but I never would have suspected that that dedication had brought them to the streets of Delhi some time in the late 70s. I now know otherwise.

Let me try to paint a picture for you of what the streets of Delhi are like at 8.30am. Take the Delhi Ring Road, for example. This main arterial in and out of the city is officially six lanes wide (three in either direction), but lanes don’t mean anything here, so you usually have five lines of traffic going each way. Actually, when I say ‘going’, I mean it in terms of the direction the traffic is heading, because, thanks to Indian efficiency, they’re already building underpasses, overpasses, innies, outies and round-a-bouties for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, so these wide expanses of road regularly converge to a mere trickle as they squeeze through the numerous road works. In short, this traffic doesn’t ‘go’ anywhere.

And in the midst of this twenty-four hour a day catastrophe, you don’t just have cars parked side by side, you also have auto-rickshaws darting in and out of every available gap, massive busses chugging along the side and moving directly into the line of cars without signalling (because they’re the biggest object on the road, and in this country, that means they have the right of way). You also have bicycles, cycle rickshaws and handcarts which literally move AGAINST the direction of traffic (just because they can), and you have tractors as well, usually with about 10 men piled on top of them.

As well as all of these, on one particular day at least, you also have elephants! On that day, Donkey was fortunate enough to be walking to work along the side of the road (it’s faster than the alternative!), and was somewhat taken off-guard as he was forced to step aside for an enormous, saggy beast. And I mean it too – she was massive! Most of the Asian/Indian elephants I’ve seen up close have been disappointingly small in comparison with what I imagine the African elephant must look like, but this old bird, she was a big ‘un.

As she approached, I was astonished by the bulk of this leathery giant, and by the way she just plodded along, one foot in front of the other, while her oblivious 'driver' reclined lazily on her hairy back as if there was nothing unusual about riding your elephant 300 miles across the Rajasthani desert and then just moseying on into one of the world’s largest cities during peak-hour. The pace of this unlikely pair was not what you’d call fast, but their momentum was … I dunno … deliberate! Nothing was going to stop them, not even the buses who very quickly adjusted to their new subordinate place in the ‘right of way’ pecking order.

But it was her feet that most amazed me – and I’m talking twenty-plus umbrella capacity in each one! Their enormous strength was evident as each step clopped against the road with a dull thud, and as she got up really close (and bear in mind I was close enough to reach out and touch her saggy hide … which I did!), I suddenly had flashbacks of Luke Skywalker as he was about to be squashed by a giant, metallic foot. There is now absolutely no doubt in my mind that those guys had definitely studied an elephant’s gait for that effect – it was just so precise and perfect. It’s a pity they couldn’t have employed the same attention to detail for the last three schtinkers – but don’t get me started!

And as for old Jumbo, I think The Force truly was with her on that morning, because that usually impenetrable wall of traffic just got right out of the way of her deliberate, unstoppable march.

Man this city amazes me sometimes!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Divine Love in the Time of Cholera

I guess the overcast skies, minor drizzles and noticeably cooler temperatures of the last couple of days should have given Donkey a hint that something was coming, but this morning the monsoon officially arrived in Delhi, and it chose to make its entrance in a pretty spectacular fashion!

For most of the early morning, visibility was at about one foot, and the deluge made pretty short work of the road drainage system. All the food scraps, rubbish, plastic bags and sewerage (treated and otherwise) that have been piling-up on the street corners and in the drains during the long, hot summer months were brought to the surface in about two seconds flat, and it was not long before the rising puddles which were now swallowing up the roads, mutated into an unsightly, fragrant mix of mud, rubbish and excrement (both human and animal).

Being the tight-arse that I am, I’d been in denial about the impending monsoon so that I wouldn’t have to spend money on an umbrella, and so it was with neither gumboots nor lid that Donkey waded into this public health disaster early this morning, in order to attempt transportation to work.

Not a chance! In this Kevin Costner-esque apocalypse which had once been known as the New Delhi Ring Road, the massive, beaten-up old Delhi Transport Corporation buses looked even more beaten-up and older than usual, and the numerous emerging limbs of the thousands of commuters stuffed inside made them look even more like prehistoric amphibians who’d just eaten too many schmucks for dinner and who were unable to wipe the leftovers from their chins (mind you, napkins the size of Kim Beazley’s bed sheets ARE a little hard to come by).

Even the skeletal auto-rickshaws looked like menacing pirhanas as they emerged from the rising turds … ah, sorry … tides, and it appeared that these, too, had gorged on the excess of humanity washed-up on the gutters by the downpour, as every single one that passed-by was occupied by sopping, bedraggled Delhi wallahs.

For fifty minutes, Donkey’s soiled, sopping, snivelling form stood in the rain, mud and filth, vainly attempting to flag down the gluttonous beasts that darted in an out of the gridlock. It was hopeless!

“Jah-eez-ars Kar-eyest!”, I snivelled miserably to myself, “I’m going to need a freakin’ miracle to get to work today!”

And just as that passionate exclamation left my fluffy, Donkey lips, something happened. It was as if time stopped. The traffic noise, even that incessant twenty-four hour honking that is a rather unattractive feature of this town, ceased. The rain, which had been pounding down for three hours, ceased. The annoying old bag standing next to me, who’d been banging-on into her mobile phone for the last fifty minutes, fell silent. For perhaps a fraction of a second, almost everything in the world had stopped. I looked up to see the only other thing that was moving.

Coming towards me, and slowing down to pick me up, was my miracle. An ordinary looking bus with a divine name, clearly sent in answer to my miserable plea. The only other thing moving in that split-second of silence, was a bus from the ‘Jesus and Mary Transport Company’. My prayers had been answered … Donkey was saved!

I took a step towards the Jesus and Mary Transport Company bus, and the Jesus and Mary Transport Company bus veered towards me, all the time slowing down. I smiled gratefully at the Jesus and Mary Transport Company bus, opening my arms as if to embrace it, and the Jesus and Mary Transport Company bus came to a stop about ten feet away to let someone off. I moved towards the Jesus and Mary Transport Company bus and reached up in order to get on, and the Jesus and Mary Transport Company bus-driver flawed the accelerator, shot past and doused me in a shower of liquid excrement floating on the cholera reservoir at my feet.

That’ll teach ya to use the Lord’s name in vain, Donkey!

Kevin Costner wouldn't stand a chance against these guys ... and Donkey had no luck with them this morning, either. Photo: Google Images

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Donkey and the Running Ass

This might not come as a surprise to you from a guy who lists one of his interests as Eggs Benedict, but Donkey is pretty obsessed with food. Please understand that this has not been a life-long obsession, but rather a fairly recent phenomenon which has come about as a result of having lived in the Pacific for the last six or seven years. It’s possible that you may not have noticed this before, but it’s not often you pick up a copy of your standard Good Food Guide, and flick through to the special feature on Samoan, Solomon Islands, Fijian or Papua New Guinean restaurants!

So after lengthy periods living in the culinary wastelands of the islands, Donkey has developed a very healthy appetite for good food and fine wine. The recent move to India was a pleasant change for Mrs Donkey and I, as Indian food is truly one of life’s pleasures, however you CAN have too much of a good thing, and I reckon three times a day for four weeks was just about where that “too much” kicked in.

Not to be outdone when it comes to a good feed, however, Mrs Donkey and I searched high and low amongst the New Delhi restaurant scene in an effort to expand our gustatory horizons, sampling all sorts of international cuisine, from vegetarian lasagne, to Paad Thai noodles and Greek souvlaki, however every single dish in this whole city has the lingering after taste of curry! It appears there is some common superstition amongst Indian chefs that bad karma will revisit anyone who does not throw into the pot a handful of cardamom, coriander, turmeric and cumin!

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, we continue to search high and low for wonderful, tasty morsels, and one day, while on her way to Market in the blistering midday heat, Mrs Donkey happened upon an exclusive French delicatessen, and fell in love with the delightful little sausages in the window. She forked over the small fortune for the meaty treats and proceeded to Market, eventually bringing home the little parcels of joy and placing them lovingly in the freezer, just as the electricity came back on after the third power-cut that day.

Once satisfied that her charges were tucked cosily into their chilly beds, Mrs Donkey and I resumed our planning for our much anticipated trip to Singapore, where, in a week hence, we planned to gastronomically plunder that rogue port to within an inch of its Six-Course-Banquets-with-cointreau-and-chocolate-soufflet-for-desert-and-an-extra-scoop-of-cream-please! This had been something we’d been looking forward to for months; a chance to sample fine seafood at a hawker market, stick our snouts in the trough of a massive breakfast buffet in a swanky hotel and of course, guzzle gallons of Ben and Jerry’s, “Eeei Haw, Eeei Haw!” Donkey heaven!

The week passed, and our fluffy maws were drooling with anticipation! The night before our departure, it was Mrs Donkey’s turn to cook, and she outdid herself with her favourite, Bangers and Mash a la Francais! Mmmm … a taste of fine things to come!

By the time we hit the tarmac in Singapore, the one-and-only toilet on Air Sahara Flight 211 had been blocked for four hours thanks to the combined attentions of Mr and Mrs Donkey. The toilets at Changi Airport succumbed to a similar fate moments after we reached the terminal, but we thankfully managed to survive the taxi ride to the house of our friend, Rob, where, for the next four days, his spare bathroom underwent a mysterious transformation from sparkly-clean to an oozing, fetid funk thanks to a couple of Donkeys playing tag-team on a more or less full-time basis.

After a couple of false starts on Day One, which saw Donkey attempt journeys of increasing distance away from home-base, only to stampede back to the porcelain, screaming in pain, we both eventually downed enough pharmaceutical cement to get on a train and hit the breakfast buffets – don’t think we were going to let a little issue like acute giardia get in the way of our culinary plans!

The first couple of courses went OK, punctuated as they were with the odd visit to what surely must have been Singapore’s finest toilets, however we had not counted on the razor-sharp wit of our friend Rob who was in fine form, and had us in stitches as he pointed out his intimate knowledge of many of our fellow diners. It all came to a head … or tail (sorry, that was really terrible!) as we were leaving the restaurant, when a particularly choice remark from Rob left me in the rather compromising position of having to shed an inner layer!

Minutes later, all cleaned-up, and trying to look confident as I strode through the immaculate interior of the Oriental Hotel, the desert buffet decided to get me back for eating too many waffles and ice cream (I had to, it was an expensive buffet … and I was on holidays … mind you, I probably could have done without that extra coffee). Now I ask you, is there anything more degrading than waltzing through the lobby of one of Singapore’s most exclusive lodgings, sans underpants, and just as you walk through the beautifully polished door that is being held open for you by an equally polished doorman, you finally achieve enlightenment on the question that’s always eluded you and your kind … why do we wear underpants?

The answer to the first part of the question is … No!
And the second? Safety in Numbers!

The next three days were horrible, for the Donkeys, for Rob and for the Singapore Health Authorities. But the person for whom it was most horrible was Rob’s poor maid. Despite her going into trauma-induced coma, Singapore had managed to survive a plundering from a couple of marauding Donkeys thanks both to the questionable food preparatory skills of a French butcher, and the erratic daily performance of the New Delhi electricity board. But be warned Singapore, the Donkeys will be back, I swear it! And when we get there, look out Desert Bar, Donkey’s comin’ to dinner!

Rob, nice and happy before the rot set in. Photo: Sally

Monday, July 10, 2006

Mi misem Auki tu mas

Halo iu fala frens blo mi.

Mi tu fala waef blo mi stap lo Niu Deli lo dis fala taem an hem barava no gud tu mas. Hem barava derti tu mas; hem barava smel; hem makem mi siki lelebit witem cof an witem flu. Mi no laekem.

Bae mi laek fo kasim Auki wea nao mi tu fala waef blo mi stap lo wan-an-haf yia finis. Hem wan barava gud fala plais lo there. Hem garam wan barava bisi maket wotem selem fis and vege. Hem garem barava frenli pepol an hem garem wan fala restaurant wotem kukem gud fala kakae. Mi laekem tu mas.

Mi tu fala misem Auki an Lilisiana barava tu mas an bae mi tu fala laek fo kasim lo there wan fala taem behin.

Lukim iu fala,


Wan fala boi blong Lilisiana, Malaita, Solomon Islands. Photo: Sally

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Access denied on Nature's Internet

Tattoos seem to be making a bit of a fashionable comeback. While once the exclusive adornment of seafarers and graduates from the School of Hardknocks, it’s now a pretty common sight to see some privileged, suburban gal with a butterfly sticking its head out from behind a spaghetti-strap, or a flower straining above the hipsters for a glimpse of the morning sun. And as for the guys, it seems everyone’s becoming a Celtic warrior or a Japanese Samurai!

I once even helped to hold down a good friend while he underwent 47 minutes of gruelling torture at the hands and hammers of a respected, traditional tattooing matai (chief). Nursie’s decision to go through with the “operation” was taken out of respect for his Samoan colleagues whose homes and lives he had shared for a year, however I don’t think either of us had anticipated my having to spend the next two weeks nursing him through raging fever after the shark-teeth wounds became infected and septicaemia kicked-in. He assures me it was worth it, however, as he gets many an admiring look and approving nod at the beach each summer.

Indeed, tatts are everywhere, and each one represents a story; an old girlfriend or wife, a sporting victory, a year in London getting stuck into the nose-candy, a visit to Dharamsala to meet the Dalai Lama, a drunken night with the Lads, twenty-years of an unjust prison sentence etc. Sometimes there’s no story directly associated with the tattoo as such, but it stands as an invitation, “See this tattoo? It means I’ve got something to say, so go on, ask me”. Tattoos are a talking point, and if you get talking to someone about their tatt, rest assured that even if they look like they might tell you to stick your questions in an uncomfortable place, the truth is, they’re more likely to bang-on for hours about themselves and their exploits.

So I guess by this time you’re wondering where and what Donkey’s tattoo is, but I’m afraid I’m not really intent on joining the ranks of the decorated; I’ve already got enough battle wounds on me to hold court to an army of bar-flies without needing to punctuate them with a snake or dragon. You see, with me it’s not tattoos; with me, it’s scars.

Scars are different from tatts. Tattoos are an advertisement; they are an invitation to inquiry. Scars are different. They are unwanted, sometimes shameful and often embarrassing. Scars do not invite questions, however I am learning as I move through this world, that there are many who seem to think it’s alright to ask people about their scars. Well it’s bloody not! Especially when you don’t know them, and especially not in the first five minutes of meeting them. So for the many people in this world who never seem to learn, and who admittedly seem to make up the ranks of expatriate society in many countries, this is for you. Read, learn and then piss-off and mind your own business! Here is the story of my scars …

See this one, on my left hand? It’s from sliding down an embankment to escape a rabid Samoan dog and slicing it open on a discarded can of corn beef – I didn’t clean it and it became infected.

This left middle finger? I was dragged over a fence by an aggressive dog when I was twelve years old. I later learned that my friend and his sister used to torment the poor thing every day by pointing a hose at it. No wonder it attacked.

Left knee? I had just had the stitches out that morning after having landed on a piece of glass while on holidays. As it happens, I must have eaten something dodgy, and had contracted a bout of gastroenteritis. While running to the bog, the cat shot out from behind a curtain to wrap itself around my ankles (as per its usual game), I hit the deck, ripping open the knee again – pants soiled in two places!

Right ring and little finger – I was a pretty drunk as I watched Essendon win the 2000 AFL Grand Final. When the final siren blew, I stood up on my chair, thrust my arms aloft in victory and stuck my hand in the ceiling fan. Twelve hours of celebratory drinking later, I awoke to a red, swollen, oozing hand.

What about my Neck? A debilitating childhood illness that is DEFINITELY NONE OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS, AND THAT GOES FOR MY LEGS AND FEET TOO – GOT IT?

And this one on my left bicep … well growing up in the ghettoes of Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs was pretty tough, and the odd 20 cents you could earn by returning bottles to the Milk Bar all helped. Unfortunately, some bottles weren’t refundable, and because they were marked as such on the label, there was no fooling the crabby old bastard who worked behind the counter. So I snuck into my Dad’s office one day, removed a razorblade from the top draw and retired to the space behind the hot water service to start scraping the labels off. It was hard work, but I was determined to get through all three bottles (well, 60 cents is 60 cents!), but I only got a quarter of the way through one when the razorblade slipped and cut about a half-inch into my bicep which, given my age, was about three-quarters of the way through my arm! Of course, I couldn’t tell anyone for fear of copping a whack for stealing the blade, so I suffered in silence.

It didn’t work by the way, Mr Milk Bar saw through my subterfuge. So no money, and disfigured for life – not much different from a twenty-year unjust prison sentence, I reckon!

Scars and tatts – one is a boast, while the other is often shrouded in shame, but both, either willingly or not, represent a story. The Story of the Bearer. Some stories are like share-wear, proudly available for all to enjoy, while others exist in the most secure vaults, often never to be let out, or at least not until their owner wills it. Either way, these stories belong to the Bearer. We may be living in an age where information is available on demand, but remember that the Information Super Highway stops at your computer screen. We are not entitled to ALL information, and for the sake of dignity and human rights, many of us need to re-learn some of the social graces that we were taught back in pre-internet days.

Picture: Google Images

Friday, July 07, 2006

The misty origins of DonkeyBlog, Part I

When Donkey's wearing his power-clobber for his daily run around the maze, he often has occasion to peruse the websites of International NGOs. While bashing it out for The Man today, Donkey noticed just how similar DonkeyBlog is in appearance to the Oxfam website (, and he got to wondering...

...hang-on a minute, if I just spin that logo upside down ... Hmmm, I thought so ... it's Donkey!

So, Donkey's nothing but a Big Old Philanthropist!

It's a great word, "philantropist". Donkey obviously knows what it means, but when he swishes it around inside that big, hairy muzzle of his, it always conjures up images of a dirty, bearded old man, piece of straw dangling from his gappy smile, rocking back and forwards on his verandah, picking his banjo.

Time to get to work, Donkey!

The Shopper’s Guide to Love

Yes, I’ve “treaded the boards” as they say. Love a bit of thespianism, Me! It’s all about bringing a completely fictitious scenario to life in front of a cynical audience, and making them believe that what they’re seeing is true; that it could and does really happen.

And so it was in my high-school rendition of My Fair Lady, which incidentally is pretty gutsy stuff for a high-football-profile, all-boy Catholic school – but don’t be alarmed, we didn’t go completely Shakespeare, the Fair Lady and a number of other roles were played by some students from the high-netball-profile, all-girl Catholic school down the road!. So anyway, back to the stage-art. You know that scene from MFL in which Eliza Doolittle, distraught from the misery of a life of abject poverty, minces around Covent Garden, singing like a nightingale about her desperate need for a hot meal; saccharine dripping from her beaming smile as she laments the absence of a roof over her head? Well, as if this beauty’s complaining about her lot wasn’t hard enough to believe, we actors were also supposed to convince an audience of high school teenagers that people who work on market stalls are all happy-go-lucky characters who present each other with flowers, whistle while they sweep the muck off the street, slap each others backs in hearty mirth at some uproariously funny practical joke involving a puppy concealed in a laundry basket and ruffle the dirty hair of a street urchin caught picking a baker’s pocket!

Paaa-lease! It was easier making everyone think that cutthroat pirates like nothing better than to whack-on a pair of tights and dance around a whole family of virtuous maidens without even a sneer or a grope – but let’s not get into the Gilbert and Sullivan tonight! No way is anyone gonna buy that ‘salt of the earth’ marketeers love nothing better than a chuckle, a smile and an old-fashioned knees-up after a twelve hour shift in the middle of a London winter. I wasn’t buyin’ it, the rest of the cast wasn’t buyin’ it, and consequently our performance didn’t convince anyone.

Fourteen years down the track, however, sees me wandering through a busy market in the early morning. I’m desperately trying to avoid eye contact with anybody for fear of being talked into buying a leather belt or a new shopping basket (I have to walk through the market everyday, so consequently every room in our house has three shopping baskets and my poor mother thinks Mrs Donkey and I are into the kinky stuff after opening the cupboard in the spare room when last she came to stay to find three hundred leather belts of varying assortment!).

So, I’m avoiding making eye contact with the belt guys. I’m avoiding making eye contact with the washing basket guys. I’m avoiding making eye contact with the wooden flute guy … with the shoelace lady … the henna boys, the buzzing toy man, the shoe shine boys … and even so, despite my extreme concentration and rather aggressive body language, that Mandrake still manages to get his crappy calculators in front of my nose before I can get out of the way! I push him aside, and as I set myself to press on, a young woman falls into step in front of me and remains about two steps ahead of me as I make my way through the throng.

I watch this featureless object in her once-bright saree, now faded with the muck of the street she keeps clean and threadbare from the harsh pounding of the Indian laundry technique. Despite her obvious poverty, I notice a subtle jauntiness in the way her heels lift off the ground when she walks, and this gets more discernable as she approaches a skeletal young man squatting in the dirt behind the plate of second-rate berries (which is all he can afford to sell for a living).

As she passes, she bends down, grabs one of the bruised morsels, pops it in her mouth and keeps on going without so much as breaking her stride. Aroused from his misery, the young man leaps to his feet and gives a shout of protest, to which the young lady turns to face her accuser (and therefore me, also). She answers him with the cheekiest of smiles, and the wide, glinting eyes that speak the universal language of young people initiating their first round of flirting.

Our spindly friend spots it too, and he ceases his moan in mid protest, replacing his scowl with an answering grin and an equally teasing glint which promises this temptress that their little liaison has yet to be played out in full.

Perhaps this former chorus-liner from My Fair Lady may have been a bit rash in his assumptions about market folk. But who could blame me? I’m a child of the 70s. My father was a pioneer in the Australian supermarket business, during that period which saw the concept come to dominate the consumer habits of every suburban family. I’d not set foot in a market until I was 19 years old. Since then, and never more so than today, I have come to realise that just as the chickens, bread, tea and frozen vegetables of the supermarket lack the freshness and vibrancy of market produce, so too the lives and passions of the people that work in or visit them.

Photo: Haggy

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The World Game

Growing up in an Australian Rules Football heartland, there was never much time for other so-called football codes. During the season, by virtue of its extensive media coverage, “Footy” is so intrusive that, wanted or not, it manages to occupy at least some of most peoples’ daily lives, and given that the unofficial season starts in January and finishes in late September, the only other sport that really gets a look-in amongst the collective consciousness is cricket (and then only if it agrees to finish-up before the first ball-up of the new Footy season!).

Despite our fanaticism, however, very few people from my home town would ever go so far as to suggest that “Aussie Rules” would hold much chop anywhere else in the world. Unlike the Yanks, who are happy to refer to one of their home-grown competitions with an ambiguity that suggests other nations could have a crack if they were good enough, we Australians know that when our team wins the Grand Final, it signifies no more than that it has reached the top of a heap from a very small part of the Southern Hemisphere. Hardly a World Game at all, and no arguments from me!

On the other hand, there are some from Northern Australia who think their preferred football codes, be it Rugby League or Union, represent the true World Game, simply because the three most prominent teams in the last 30 years have originated from three fairly distant points on the globe.

A quick scan around the internet media at a time like this is more than enough to demonstrate the wide-spread interest in the “Soccer” (sorry, old habits die hard) World Cup, but really, who needs the internet to demonstrate it? The evidence is everywhere!

Take my experience of the World Cup Final in 2002; my most vivid example of why soccer is truly the World Game. It was Brazil v Germany, and while most of the world was a-fire with anticipation, my companions and I were bouncing around in an old Russian van on a completely flat, featureless, dusty landscape; not a living thing or sign of habitation, human or otherwise, could be seen along the unobscured, 360 degrees of desolation.

For five days we’d had our backsides and heads alternatively pounded as our Mongolian driver, Hoya Baira, completely whacked-out on mares-milk vodka, caned his bucket of bolts towards an unknown goal, along an unknown route, and all according to an unknown, although clearly very tight timetable. We were exhausted from the travel and the relentless heat of the Mongolian summer, and we had no idea which was going to give out first, the van or Hoya Baira - both were being severely maltreated, although admittedly one had only himself to blame!

None of us really knew what day it was when we started climbing a gentle slope towards some far off trees; the first geographical variation to the flat steppes we’d seen in five days, and as we climbed higher, we started to see the signs of what passes for habitation in the Mongolian countryside – yaks and horses!

With a shriek that might have been laughter or the final slide into alcoholic imbecility, Hoya Baira plummeted into a valley and pulled up with a screech outside a ger; the closest thing Mongolian nomads have to a permanent home. These large, timber-framed, felt-walled tents contains hardwood furniture, a heavy wooden door, an iron, pot-belly stove and not much else. It all gets packed up and moved with the herds three times a year and it’s pretty sparse; no luxuries, just the barest of necessities to get you through eight months of sub-zero temperatures.

The next three hours saw us whip-lashing our way from jolting acceleration to sudden, bald-tyre-screeching halts as we moved from one ger to the next. At each one Hoya Baira would fire off a series of guttural, Mongolian grunts to the inhabitants, listen to the gagging reply, and then take-off again with ever-increasing urgency.

When we finally did come to a complete stop at a ger which appeared to be just like all the others, our crazy soak of a steersman staggered out of the van without a word and disappeared through the painted wooden door. For about an hour we waited in the afternoon sun for him to emerge, wondering what was going on and why there was absolutely no one about, and then we finally summoned the nerve to approach the threshold.

Inside the ger, the air was thick with tobacco smoke and it was packed solid with people (more than we’d seen since we left town, now we knew where all the Mongolians had been!). A mug of vodka was thrust into my hands to be downed immediately as per custom, but this only further prevented my eyes from adjusting to the darkness. Eventually, the gagging reflex from the vodka, and the sickly stench of mares’ cheese and unwashed Mongolian, passed. All eyes were to one end of the “room”, where I could just make out Hoya Baira on the floor, and beyond him, something that made my jaw flap around my knees; it was thirty-two minutes into the first half of the World Cup Final on a very large, Soviet-era colour TV!

I’ve just done a search on the web, and I can find no record of Mongolia having ever qualified for the FIFA World Cup. On this day, however, in the boiling Mongolian summer of 2002, people had travelled very vast distances on foot or horseback to watch and cheer on players and teams that many of them could never have heard of, let alone seen before. Everyone was uproariously drunk, despite the early hour, and vocal chords were being systematically destroyed as the inhabitants of a non-descript ger, in an un-named valley in the middle of the vast Mongolian steppe, abused the referees, cheered the players or argued with each other about tactics.

Vodka-clouded investigations later revealed a satellite dish and car batteries, previously obscured from view, on the far side the ger. Only for a true World Game would the world’s have-nots literally achieve the impossible in order to watch a 90-odd minute sporting event to which they had no national connection.

This Sunday Night, I will watch the World Cup final with Fred, my French friend, in his house in New Delhi, India. Drinking with us will be Indians, a German, Americans, Australians, Brits, a Swede, Italians, a Colombian, Spaniards, Kiwis and Canadians. Fred’s pretty hopeful that France will knock-off Portugal tonight, and he’ll get to see his heroes take-on Italy on Sunday Night, but even if they don’t get up tonight, Fred will still have his party and watch the Final. Why not? It’s the World Game after all!

Ger with Sattelite Dish: after the World Cup Final, 2002. Photo: Daz