India 08, India 09

December 28th, 2008

It’s been a while.

In mid-September I flew to India for the first time in five years, using a rag-tag collection of budget airlines that led to lots of checking myself in and out of airports and hanging around waiting for connections. I spent a long time in Darwin airport (thanks, Jetstar!), which is pretty tiny. It does have a Red Rooster. But it wasn’t open.

I travelled around updating the Orissa and West Bengal chapters of Lonely Planet’s India guide; it was my first LP authoring job, and it turned out to be pretty exhausting work. I don’t know if I’ll do it again, but if nothing else the whole experience will help me to be a better editor for LP, knowing how things work from the author’s point of view.

People keep asking me what the highlights were, and I’ll pretty much say ‘Darjeeling‘.

Anyway, the whole trip made me think about my ongoing relationship with India, the country where I lived in from 1980 to 1987. This seems to be the way it works:

When I’ve been away from India for a while, I start to miss it. I go into an Indian grocery store and breath in the smell of methi and agarbathi and Lux soap and I nudge Chris and say We have to go to India. Every time I eat a dosa I get teary. I start making holiday plans (or, more recently, get myself an India-related job) and get more and more excited and by the time I’m on the plane I’m almost shaking. When I land in India I get a taxi to my hotel and I wind down the window and feel hot gritty wind in my hair and I’m high, I see goats eating posters off the walls and open drains and huge billboards with Mithun Chakraborty advertising steel rods. It’s all so familiar, and I think I’m really home, at last.

The feeling of familiarity stays with me, but the high disippates. I rediscover all the reasons that travel in India can be hard, especially if you’re on your own and you look different: the staring, the petty bureaucracy, the humidity, the touts, the fact that nothing is ever straightforward. Then I feel all this white liberal guilt for feeling frustrated, which winds me up even further.

Eventually I throw a little hissy fit, somewhere along the line. This time it was at Kolkata’s central train station, late in the evening, after my train to Bhubaneswar was mysteriously cancelled. My bag was heavy, the station was heavingly chaotic, and I was sent from queue to office to queue to unhelpful ticket officer in search of an alternative train or ticket. At one point, when I was sent to the end of another long queue, I started to blub, and saw the words I’M NEVER COMING BACK in capital letters in my head. When I eventually reached the front of the queue and was told I was in the wrong queue, I lost it and shouted I’ve been sent to seven different offices and everyone tells me something different! The man behind me in the queue said very calmly and earnestly, Oh but madam, that is India.

Eventually the trip comes to an end, and I’m happy to go home, and I think Well I got it out my system this time, and by the time I get on the plane I’m almost shaking with excitement. I get back to Melbourne and get high on shopping in supermarkets and drinking out of the tap. (Also, this time I had a loved partner and dog to return too: extra happiness.)

Given the usual pattern, in about six months we would be walking past an Indian video shop in Sydney Road and some familiar Hindi hit would blare out and I would say Oh Chris we have to go to India. But this time, for the first time, I’m going back while I till have bad memories as well as good ones.

The Australia Council in its wisdom has given me some funding that will let me research in India and take some time off work to write (or at least start writing) another book. This time I’ll be starting in Ooty and then travelling up the east coast from Chennai to Kolkata.

Loosely, the subject matter is the life and death of Australian missionary Graham Staines, but it’s not a straight biography – it will be more a travelogue in the style of Women of the Gobi. I’m off in late February, and have a loose itinerary already, but I’m open to suggestion about places to visit. Anyone with any ideas about religious sites/figures on the east coast (especially where different religions are working/worshipping together) please drop me a line!

Inked Up

August 9th, 2008

I wrote about my tattoo plans a few posts back. And now I’ve done it.


July 19th, 2008

More than four years ago, when I was working inhouse at Lonely Planet as an editor, I jumped through the various hoops necessary to becoming accepted into the LP author pool. Then I went freelance and wrote Women of the Gobi for Pluto Press and didn’t get round to pitching for anything at LP and my name fell off the author list.

But now, finally, I’ve got my first authoring job, and I’m going to India. From September to November I’ll be shooting around Orissa and West Bengal, looking at hotel rooms I can’t afford and collecting bus timetables and other similarly unglamorous jobs, all the while being envied by other travellers who are basking on the beach or trekking through the hills, and almost certainly having a much better time than me.

Ah, who am I kidding. I’m pretty excited.

Tips and recommendations gratefully accepted, everyone!

Chinese portraits

April 19th, 2008

This is one of the coolest art projects I’ve seen in a long time. Chinese artists who are paid low wages to churn out copies of famous paintings were paid to produce self-portraits in the style they paint for a living. I’m not going to say anything else – go check them out.

Yes, you’re probably going to hell

April 14th, 2008

A couple of years ago I went on holiday to India, to my hometown of Ooty, into Kerala and up the west coast to Goa. At the time I was an inhouse editor at Lonely Planet, but I didn’t mention this to most people I met – mainly because people usually want to bitch at you about how LP’s Prague map had the train station in the wrong place or the bus to Beijing was 100 yuan more expensive than the China guide said it would be, and that’s really nothing to do with me. But before I took this trip to India, the author of LP’s Goa guide told me about a guesthouse in Goa that I just had to visit, and he told me to say hi to the owners from him.

Which I did. And when they found out I was a Lonely Planet editor, the owners were all over me for the rest of the stay – reduced rates, taking me out for an expensive meal, arranging guides for me, all things I really hadn’t asked for and felt uncomfortable with. But I was part of the magical world of Lonely Planet, which can make or break a business with a few lines in a guidebook. It wouldn’t have been hard for me to take advantage of them and pick up a few freebies. I didn’t.

But Thomas Kohnstamm says that’s what he had to do to survive as a Lonely Planet author. That, and deal drugs, make things up and plagiarize. I’ve been stewing about this for days – yes, I do think Lonely Planet should pay its authors more, no question, but man, this guy is a dick.

Why did he keep coming back for more if he thought he was unfairly paid? Why is he laughing about the fact that he screwed over all those readers? I had a much longer rant planned, but this guy puts it just as well. Go on, go read it.

I’ve pitched for writing work on LP’s India and Sri Lanka guides, to be researched later this year. Fingers crossed. But if the pay isn’t enough to cover my air fare, than I’ll turn it down, or try to renegotiate. I won’t do a crappy job and then expect people to applaud me as a gonzo travel writer.

(Oh, and while you’re here, go read the articles I wrote for

Update: He thinks he’s been misquoted and taken out of context: hmmmm. I’m inclined to have a small amount of sympathy, but, you know, I’m sure his book will sell well (much better than mine…) on the back of all the controversy.

100% true Valentine’s day conversation

February 15th, 2008

Kate: Wake up Chris, here’s your coffee … happy Valentine’s day!

Chris: (rolls over, moans, coughs) What, is it Valentine’s day? We should bake Luffy a big heart-shaped meat pie. Yes we should Luffy, oh you’re such a handsome fellow, aren’t you? Yes you are!


February 13th, 2008

I’m sitting on the couch with the dog on my lap and a beer in my hand, watching reports of the apology on SBS news, and all of a sudden I start crying. Maybe it’s cheap emotion, and like everybody’s been saying all day, it’s our future actions rather than our words that are important. (Also, it wasn’t nearly as eloquent as the other John Howard’s apology.) But dammit, John Howard is gone and for the first time in many years I feel proud to be Australian. Well, maybe not proud.

Bart: I feel so full of…what’s the opposite of shame?

Marge: Pride?

Bart: No, no that far from shame.

Homer: Less shame?

Bart: Yeah!

Ethical dilemma

February 7th, 2008

I have a tattoo planned. Three flying birds along my shoulder, based on an India woodblock design, coloured in brown, blue and grey, the colours worn by Mildred Cable, Eva French and Francesca French, the three women whose lives and travels I wrote about in Women of the Gobi. But here’s the snag.

About a year ago, when I was planning my tattoo, I got diagnosed with a genetic mutation called haemochromatosis. It means I’ve got too much iron in my blood, which doesn’t really affect me now but could do nasty things to my vital organs later on if I don’t reduce my iron levels. Turns out that the best way to do that is to be bled regularly, a medical procedure that I thought went out of fashion at about the same time as leeches.

So every couple of weeks I catch the 55 tram down to the blood bank and lie on a couch and get all freaked out about the needles, and have some blood pumped out of me, then I nearly faint and get a free caramel milkshake and sausage roll, and then I get back on the tram and feel crap for the rest of the day.

While my blood isn’t that good for me, it’s great for other people. If you’re O-positive and you need a blood transfusion (or you’re a vampire … mmm, Spike), it’s my extra-rich blood you’ll be wanting.

And this is where the ethical dilemma occurs.

The rules at the blood bank say that you can’t donate blood for a year after you get a tattoo. Because of my condition they’d have to keep taking my blood, but they’d have to throw it away. I’ve been putting off getting my tattoo until my iron levels come down and I’m only donating a couple of times a year, which I was told would probably be about now, but today the specialist told me I’d have to keep being bled once a month for another year or so.

Man, I really want to get that birdy tattoo, but I’m going to feel bad about all those people missing out on my delicious blood. Also, some of the nurses at the blood bank are kind of grumpy and scary, and I think they’d be pretty unimpressed with me. And I’d feel guilty about taking the caramel milkshake.

Ways to waste time

February 7th, 2008

I don’t know how long it’s been up, but Women of the Gobi now has its own page on Google Book Search, which is pretty neat. The whole text is there and searchable, and the coolest thing is the world map that has a little marker for each of the towns mentioned in the text; click on the Urumqi marker and you get all the references to Urumqi in the book. Go check it out!

I don’t know if searching your own book online is a bit like smelling your own farts or something, but I’m having fun navigating around using the various Google Book Search tools. I don’t have any work to do this week, but instead of writing a book proposal or pitching articles or other worthy things, I’m obsessively playing a whole lot of Scrabulous with people who should be working.

There are certain people, who I won’t name, who I have long suspected of cheating at Scrabulous … people who don’t strike me as having huge vocabularies, and yet they put down lots of words that I’ve never heard. Recently I sent all my Scrabulous buddies a story about Scrabulous cheats, and got an admission of guilt out of someone I hadn’t even suspected – but the intended target didn’t comment, and continues to beat me with some very dodgy words. You know who you are, you sneaky vixen.

Kate Gets Hacked II: The Rehackenating

December 18th, 2007

Hello to everyone who’s following links here to collect files that some crazy phisher is spamming all over the place with my name on them. I am not the Alpha Financial company, I am an Australia writer and editor and this site, while originally designed to help market my book, has devolved to being mainly a place to post pictures of my fluffy dog. I’ve changed my password and killed the files, so that should be that.

Thanks to all the nice strangers who emailed me to let me know, though I do wonder why you were bothering to read your Spam…