Ejo #65 – Please Give Me Your Money

Please give me your money so I can buy some food with it. Not for me, but for the guys that toil and struggle every day in their efforts to build (and maintain) this sparkling, modern metropolis called Dubai.

Workers in Dubai

Workers getting on the bus heading back to camp.  The skyscrapers that they build in the background. 

I don’t normally beg for food. And if it was for me, I would actually just rather do without (I could probably stand to lose a couple of kilos anyway). But the money I’m asking you for is for a more worthy cause – one which my longtime readers will already be familiar with. Can you believe it’s been 18 months since I last asked you, my friends and family, to help me bring a smile to a labourer’s face (by putting some food in his belly)? Well, indeed a year and a half has tumbled past, and it’s time for me to once more get on my knees and ask you to part with some of your hard earned dollars.

Those of you who have contributed before know that the driving force behind the food donations is Roshni Raimalwala, the hard-working, behind-the-scenes advocate of the labourers and workers of the city – the ones that the government should be doing more to look after (check out the other work she does with Care 2 Share UAE).  She is out there every week (sandstorms and searing sunshine be damned) organising food and grocery handouts on behalf of companies, schools and sometimes individuals – like us – that wish to help.  During religious holidays like Ramadan and Eid, she also arranges larger hampers filled with toiletries, clothes and bedding.  Things the workers need and want, but simply can’t afford to buy on their own.

Standing in front of the building they'll never be able to enter.

Standing in front of the building they helped to build but will never be able to enter.

On Friday, 24th April 2015, David and I will be going to Muhaisnah labour camp (more commonly known as Sonapur, which ironically translates from Hindi as “Land of Gold”) where Roshni has facilitated a handout to be done by some children from one of the local schools. How wonderful is that??  I really think that growing up in this city, it’s super important for young kids to realise that Dubai is not all about beach clubs, malls, nannies and sparkling new bikes.  If they can see that the reason this city even exists is because an entire collective of human beings from another continent have built it from the ground up, surely that’s a great lesson for them to learn.  Another important lesson is to see that there are people less fortunate than they are, to put a face to those people and to reach their hands out to help them.  To make the situation real.  I believe that compassion is one of the most meaningful things that anyone can learn, and even better to learn it from a young age.  I am really looking forward to participating alongside, and meeting, the young philanthropists who have promised their time and energy towards the cause.  I wish you could come along too – and if you’re in Dubai and are interested, please get in touch with me and we can make that happen.

But if you are in Australia, or the US, UK or anywhere else in the world, and would still like to be involved, then please just pledge me a little bit of dough.  It doesn’t have to be a lot.  If you can make do without ten pounds, or five bucks or even just 20HKD then that will still contribute a great deal towards providing a tired, hungry, poor worker with some food that he otherwise would not have enjoyed.  If you can spare more, that would be even better.

Between us, David and I will match every single overseas donation.  So if you all raise the equivalent of 2000dhs, that’s how much we’ll put in the kitty too.  If it’s more, then we’ll be happy to dig deeper.

After all, it’s just money, right?

Ejo #64 – I Can’t Write Good No More

The other day I tried to write a short story. And I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t suffering from writer’s block – I knew the premise of the story. I knew what I wanted to say. I simply couldn’t put the words together in the right way in order to say it. The words spewed out of me in convulsions, inking themselves on the page in fractured, childish sentences. I persevered. A couple of hours later (a period long enough for the muse to flirt with me at least a little, usually leaving me with something of value to take home) all I had to show for my efforts were big black X’s scribbled all over the page, obliterating the crap that had disgorged from my pen. I was embarrassed by what I saw. I could not write a story.

I tried to remember the last time I wrote a completely new short story and realised it’s been over a year.

I recently went to a session of the Dubai Writer’s Group, a collective of writers that meets in a downtown café to critique each other’s work and, on alternate weeks, hold writing sessions. I went because it was one of my goals for 2015 to attend at least one of these sessions a month. I work better under some pressure and setting goals like this usually works for me (or, at least it has for this ejo which I’ve been publishing monthly since December 2010).

Because we were out of the country for most of January I couldn’t attend any of the writing workshops – so I signed up for a critique session instead. I submitted my story “Jackie” (yep, the one I wrote last year), and I will be the first to put my hand up right now and admit that this was a big fat cheat. The story was complete and didn’t need feedback. It had been edited and rewritten several times, and it was done. But I had to submit something and, sadly, it was the most recent piece of fiction I’d produced.

I won’t say I didn’t get anything out of the other writers’ evaluations of my work. A lot of what they said was actually a bit of an ego boost for me, and the criticism the piece garnered had more to do with the readers being unsatisfied and wanting to know more. I took that as a compliment. A couple of them said it was a good starting point for a novel. All very flattering. But did it achieve the goal I’d wanted? No. I’d promised myself I would go to those meetings in order to provide me with more motivation to write. And from the very first session I had already failed, because I’d failed to write something new.

In February I registered for one of the writing sessions, hoping that this would be a more successful venture, though my interest was already starting to wane. The meeting was cancelled five minutes before I left the house. Despite being grateful that I didn’t have to drive 45 minutes in weekend evening traffic to the café, I felt more disappointment than relief. That was the only February session I could make, so my second attempt at fulfilling my goal was as much of a failure, if not more so, than the first. At least I had actually attended in January.

At the beginning of March I half-heartedly checked their schedule of meetings and realised that I was rostered to work for all of them. Short of trying to swap some shifts around (no easy task) or chucking a sicky (not my stripe) I simply wouldn’t be able to attend. And that was the final straw for me. Though I can see the purpose of the Dubai Writer’s Group and how it would benefit some writers, I decided to change my goal from monthly attendance at their meetings to writing one short story a month. I figured that this, more than schlepping across town twelve times a year, would benefit my objective of writing more. And of becoming a better writer.

That is, until I actually sat down and tried to write a short story and discovered that I could no longer do so. The realisation didn’t happen right away; it was (painfully) slow to dawn. That first, difficult, attempt resulted in two or three passable paragraphs which I transcribed onto a Word document (I write fiction longhand, call me old-fashioned but I usually work better that way). The next day I had a look at my “work”, blinking with distaste as I read it. I attempted to continue what I’d started. I tried to improve it, to get it going. I truly gave it everything I had. The next three days I tried and tried and tried with the story, struggling to shape the protagonist in a way that would move the story to the place I wanted it to go. I wasn’t able to do it, and the feeling was terrible. Like I was adrift at sea, with no paddle. I thought about trashing the idea because, quite obviously, something wasn’t working with it. And it was only then that it occurred to me that perhaps it wasn’t the story that was failing, it was me. I was rusty. My writing was awkward, and inept.

I’m not good at much, and that’s OK. But I’ve always been good at writing. I’m not saying I’m amazing, but it’s an art form that I’ve always been comfortable with. Words have always been my friends – even when I’ve been blocked, they’ve still been there, only out of reach. But the words coming out now were drivel. Words had turned their back on me. Probably because I had done the same to them.

Writing these ejos every month for the last few years has been very good for my essay writing. But fiction is a whole other kettle of fish, and (let’s be honest) I’ve been neglecting my fish. Just as you can’t expect to serve up an ace or play a flawless concerto when you lay down your tennis racket or violin for a year, how was I expecting to whip up a complex, engaging, well-structured story when I hadn’t given my pen any love for twelve, long months? How very arrogant of me. Well, I have learned my lesson – the hard way. I’ve been humbled. I no longer take my ability to write for granted. I see it as a little present given to me in the crazy, random lottery of life. And I realise that I need to keep working on it. Forever. I need to keep practicing or I’ll lose it. And that would truly be very sad for me.

All I have is words

All I have is words

I used to dream of making my living as a writer. I used to dream I’d write the great Australian novel, or a J.K.Rowling style blockbuster. Maybe a screenplay that would sweep all the awards for screenwriting (on top of making millions at the box-office). But when your goal is such a high-stake one, there is always so much more to lose. My fear of failure paralysed me, so instead of just giving it a go (and perhaps not achieving these lofty ideals) it was much easier for me to pop these goals in the dream drawer. In there, my dreams achieved Schrödinger’s Cat status. Maybe I WAS capable of literary superstardom. Maybe I wasn’t. But what if I opened the drawer and discovered a dead cat…. well, I didn’t want to take that risk.

I no longer dream of fame and critical acclaim for my writing. I now write because I know that I feel like shit when I don’t. My purpose in life is a simple one. It is to put pen to paper. Thomas Mann said, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people”.  And unfortunately, for me, that seems to be true.  But I’ll keep plugging away at this little lemon of mine until I construct a story that I can be a little bit proud of. And when I’ve done that, I’ll write another one. And then another. I’ll keep doing that until I have twelve complete short stories at the end of the year. A collection. And whether I get published or not, I’ll know I’m doing the best that I can to not squander my little gift. I’ll be taking it out of the drawer and unwrapping it from the cotton wool. I’ll be polishing it off, throwing it up in the air and drop kicking it as hard as I can.

Ejo #63 – Drunk In….. Tokyo

I’m often asked for recommendations on places to eat and drink in foreign cities. I’d go so far as to say that I’m actually a great person to ask for recommendations. Why? Because I’m a helluva researcher. That’s why! When David and I plan to visit a new city, I start googling weeks, if not months, before. Hey, I never said I had a life! It’s actually something I really enjoy doing, and it helps fill my days. So to give you an idea of the amount of research I do, I start by googling, for instance, “best ramen tokyo”. Usually what comes up are lists – blogger lists, magazine article lists etc. And even though they might agree on one or two places, there’s usually a large range of places considered “best ramen tokyo”. A typical search yields about ten ramen joints. So how do I know that bloggers like seriouseats or ladyironchef enjoy the same kind of ramen that I do? Well, I don’t. I don’t know these people from a bar of soap. We could have wildly different tastes, so while I’m happy to check out their recommendations further, I need to do some more research on my own. I then go on to read (on average) five or six more articles/blogs on that particular place (times ten) and then narrow it down to one or two that I’d like us to visit.

It’s, shall we say, time consuming.

But aren’t you lucky?!! I’ve decided to publish a new series called Drunk In….. in which I make my recommendations for awesome little places around the world that you might otherwise miss (because you’re not as anal as I am). And I’m going to start with Tokyo which we’ve just recently visited. I’m not going to include fancy, high-end restaurants (though there might be the occasional fancy bar). The purpose of this series is to clue you in on where to get great food or great drinks when you’re out and about enjoying a new city. Of course one of the best things about being on holiday is the spontaneous discovery – and I always leave room for those. Some of the best experiences we’ve had are in places we just drunkenly stumbled upon. Kampai!!

Most yakitori places are a little rough around the edges – after all it’s basically barbecue food (though it feels blasphemous to even make that comparison). Fuku is a slightly classier affair (and even better, a non-smoking affair, a rarity in Tokyo). The chef expertly grills skewers of various parts of… READ MORE

This is no regular noodle joint. First of all it’s located in the basement of Tokyo Station in a section called Tokyo Ramen Street (and it’s not really easy to find – go to an information booth to get detailed directions). Secondly, they don’t serve regular ramen. This place specialises in… READ MORE

We literally stumbled upon this place our first night in Tokyo (it was about ten metres from our apartment). It doesn’t have a sign in English so I have no idea what it’s called, but the food and hospitality are so good we… READ MORE

So, more ramen. But different ramen. The Golden Gai branch of Nagi Ramen is a second-storey, ten-seat restaurant about the size of your… READ MORE

These two incredible bars are run by the Small Axe group, and if you are serious about your cocktails, you will most definitely want to make a stop at either (or both) bars. We, of course, in the name of research, went to both. The focus in both places is on… READ MORE

Golden Gai is a small city block (I make it out about 60m x 80m) in Shinjuku, Tokyo that should have been condemned and knocked down about 80 years ago. Within that area there are about 200 tiny little bars each with a capacity of just… READ MORE