Smoke and Salt shipping container, an imagined journey of its travels across the world.

I lie by the dockside, just down from the factory whose clanking machinery created my lines and sides and corners and spaces. Freshly painted across my frontage, an array of industrial hieroglyphics – China International Marine Containers, Hapag-Lloyd, HLXU2003419, 22G1, Max Payload 29,230kg – numbers defining who I am, numbers defining what I can be.

Shanghai sprawls resolutely behind the harbour-front; its forest of cranes and concrete criss-cross the dawn sky, soaring totems to the gods of a new world.

Through Pudong’s early morning haze, neon lights pulse green and red, beacons dancing to the relentless beat of the metropolis. And just beyond, the grand old facades of the Bund, still resplendent in their neoclassical and art-deco finery, their stories written over a century ago.

But my future lies in the other direction, not inland but out across the East China Sea. The dawn horizon calls out to me, whispering promises of marvels and adventure.

My first consignment is a cargo of high-tech computer equipment, loaded up by the dock-handlers on the 4am shift. I hear their banter as they work. Their calloused nicotine-stained hands speak of years on the dockside, whilst this passage of time has perfected their collective operations into a balletic choreography. They know each other well; they are like family.

A crane hoists me up high into the sky, a lofty leap towards those skyscraper peaks, wondering when I’ll next see them again. Next week? Next month? Never?.. And then down onto the foredeck, where the stevedores lower me onto a maze of containers, each with their own voyages and destinies.

And so on this day, my work begins. I’m a missionary, whose belly carries the new Chinese economy across the world.

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Tongan feast for one; now I that's something I wasn't expecting!

May I present to you the Polynesian legend of ‘The Octopus and The Rat’.. Some legends tell of intrepid heroes and dastardly villains, and their epic duels across space and time. Some tell of deceitful deities, and their tricks and schemes to bewitch humankind. Some tingle the spines of wide-eyed children, and some devour the hearts of brave but stupid men. Some make you laugh. Some make you weep. Some inspire nostalgia. And some make you glad to be alive.

But this one doesn’t.

A rat and hermit crab are stranded at sea after a devastating shipwreck. They go their separate ways. The rat then comes across an octopus. ‘Hullo,’ greets the octopus. They strike a bargain, which sees the octopus carry the rat to a far-away island. But as the rat disembarks, he disingenuously craps on the octopus’s head. And that is why octopuses have tubercles on their heads, and that is why rats are their sworn enemies.

The End.

Do not say you were not forewarned. It contains no otherworldly beings or mythical beasts. There is no overarching theme or cautionary tale. It begins with a character utterly superfluous to the plot and climaxes in a quite random and meaningless act. And the hostility between the two protagonists is biologically inaccurate; they inhabit completely different ecosystems. As
legends go, it is, frankly, not a particularly good one. It doesn’t even make sense.

But at least it’s a good introduction to my time in Tonga, a land that similarly confounded a young naive medical student at the turn of the Millennium. A faraway land replete with legend, a culture so different to my own. View Post

Tonga, where I visited back in 1999 as a keen-eyed medical student, has roasted pig as a delicacy.

The year was 1773; Captain Cook, the esteemed explorer of yore, stepped ashore the fabled island of Lifuka in Tonga. So enamoured was he with the locals and their exuberant entertainments, copious feasting and general revelry – the like of which he’d ne’er seen before back in Blighty – that he graciously bestowed on them the title ‘Friendly Islanders’.

Somewhat ironic – for his hosts were actually planning to chop him into bite-sized portions and serve him up as pre-dinner canapés. Luckily for Cook, the scheme foundered when they couldn’t agree on the finer details, such as whether Englishmen go well with ketchup, or whether they’re best served as a small-plates sharing concept.

Nevertheless, the term ‘Friendly Islanders’ has stuck forevermore. And indeed, it’s been gratuitously appropriated by the most unlikely local services (like Friendly Islander Vasectomies – ‘we snip with a smile..’) But despite their panache for canny marketing slogans, underneath lies an irrefutable generosity, something I increasingly discovered during my med-student placement on these fair isles. View Post

Tonga travel involves some beautiful island scenery

Let’s cut to the chase. Ceviche. Raw fish dish. From Peru. At a renown London venue, also called Ceviche. Ah ceviche! My dish for the road. Cue tangential preambles to travels in Peru. Such a beautiful country! Such amazing adventures!

Like the time when I inadvertently became a marauding alpaca herder on the High Andes. That was so fun! And of course the time when I went to the airport with a consignment of coca-leaf tea for grandma – she loved a nice cuppa, bless her – only to discover that it’s apparently highly illegal, and two burly Customs officers and one cavity search later, suddenly found myself in a dank Peruvian jail for a period of several months, rescued only after I grassed up a fellow inmate, a notorious gangster by the name of El Diablo, whose fierce henchmen still continue to track me down, which is why I now live incognito as a food-blogger. Well, what a lark that was!

And then the time when.. oh, you know what, just screw it. I’ve never been to Peru, okay? I can’t keep this pretence up any longer. So here’s the thing – instead of Peru, I’m gonna write about somewhere else, a country that also does ceviche, a place I’ve actually been to.. View Post

Kricket, where the diverse ingredients in this thoran has me reflecting on diversity more generally.

Religion. Do I go there? What is to gain? What could I lose? And yet here I am. And here beside me is the territory of ritual, history and God. And here’s me stepping into it..

I think most of us have our stories of religion. Whether we grew up with it or not. Whether it was found or it was lost. Mine begins in a Jewish family, quite Orthodox in fact, until I discovered I was possibly atheist, but let’s call it agnostic, but always felt connected to Jewish culture if not belief, now living in and raising a mixed-faith family, rewarded by the richness and challenges that brings, living in a city that’s probably the most diverse on earth. I love that my neighbours are also mixed-faith; in fact between our two houses there are four religions, a fifth if you include our other neighbours. In our local neighborhood, there’s a friendly Sikh gurdwara, a serene Buddhist temple, a vibrant synagogue, the oldest mosque in London, churches from myriad denominations, and probably lots more besides.

I’m constantly intrigued by religion. I revel in its rituals, its festivals, its music, its community, and of course the centrality of food. It can transcend the individual, traversing time and space, helping people in their search for meaning. But as for dogma, division, rigidity and intolerance – well, who needs those unfortunate bedfellows… View Post