Category Archives: asia

Preparing okonomiyaki in Tokyo, Japan

Preparing okonomiyaki in Tokyo, Japan. © Ryan Rowe /

Preparing okonomiyaki takes a lot of concentration. This is a popular Japanese dish that looks like an omelet or a pancake and is made with ingredients such as flour, egg, potato, cheese, onions, cabbage, and other vegetables. But really you can put anything you want in it. It is then grilled to your taste and you can season it with mayonnaise or seaweed flakes. Some restaurants, like this one, offer the DIY (do-it-yourself) option. Its a lot of fun and a good way to spend time with friends. Definitely a must on your next visit to Japan or even in the Little Tokyo neighbourhood of your city!

Men eating kabsa in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Men eating kabsa in a local restaurant in Ridyadh, Saudi Arabia. © Ryan Rowe /

Men in Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh gather at a local restaurant to eat a traditional meal known as kabsa. Kabsa is composed of different types of rice and meats which are flavoured with spices and topped with nuts, raisins and onions. Here there are several men, including myself, seated barefoot on the floor around a large platter. After a short prayer, we dug in with our hands. Delicious.

A Pakistani schoolgirl clutches her books

A schoolgirl in a small village outside of Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. © Ryan Rowe /

A Pakistani schoolgirl clutches her books as she stands outside of the new primary school that is being opened in the small, mountain-side village of Sokar (Chattian) in the state of Azzad Jammu & Kashmir. Many girls in Pakistan don’t get a chance at an education – perhaps for religious reasons or because their parents need them to support the household in various ways. The folks in this community, however, are very happy to have this new school in place. I felt privileged to join them for the celebration. The school was built in 2010 by the NGO formerly led by my late friend Mubashir Niaz (aka Mishi Khan).

Sunset over Marikaban Beach in the Philippines

Fishing boats, silhouetted against calm waters illuminated by a setting sun,
provide an idyllic picture of life on Bantayan Island in the Philippines. © Ryan Rowe /

During a recent visit to Bantayan Island in the Philippines beautiful sunsets like this one were common. Life here is just as tranquil as it seems. Fishing is  a mainstay of the economy on small Filipino islands such as these and the shallow coastal waters are rich with many varieties of fish. We stayed at the lovely White Beach Bungalows, in the tiny community of Marikaban Beach, which is a 15-minute motorbike ride from the municipality of Santa Fe. A stroll along the beach and through the village will give you insight into villagers’ life. Everyone is friendly and foreigners are welcome here. Sadly, Bantayan Island and Marikaban Beach in particular were very badly hit by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, but the owners of the bungalow accommodation appear to have rebuilt and reopened.

That un-explainable thing that happens to you when you travel

Playing “carrom” with the firefighters at Nariman Point station in Mumbai, India

There’s something that happens to you when you travel which I can’t quite explain. Most of the places I’ve visited I try to stick my nose into, with the inevitable consequence that I leave a part of myself there. In return I try take with me a new friend, an experience, a few words of the local language, or a lesson I’ve learned.

But that part of me that stays behind means a piece of me is missing. And after a while if you keep leaving pieces of yourself behind, you end up being scattered all over the place. And you know, what you’ve taken with you changes you too, changes who you are as a person.

And when you go back to wherever ‘home’ was before you left, it’s not really ‘home’ anymore, because it feels different and you’re not sure you fit in and maybe some of the people you knew don’t really get what happened to you while you were away because they weren’t there or they don’t relate to what you have to say or are thinking about.

Thats what travel does to you. It changes you and your place in the world. And that’s the mind fuck. When you realize you don’t quite fit in at home, and you’re not quite a fit with anywhere else, then you wonder where to go and what to do. Like a permanent state of culture shock. And as much as traveling is a joy and a privilege, understanding how your identity is transforming and what it means for your life can turn your world upside down, and its not always a pile of giggles. But at the end of the day I wouldn’t give it up for anything

Water safety workshop in Nagpur, India

In Nagpur, India this week for a three-day workshop and conference on water safety with colleagues from WHO, UNICEF and Government of India (via the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s National Environmental Engineering Institute). Nagpur is a city of 2.5 million people in the same state as Mumbai (Bombay). It is most famous for its delicious, juicy oranges and for being the geographic “centre” of the country. My interest in public health began in India in 2009 when I observed water-related health issues on a visit to a local slum. Feels like I have come full-circle to be back here addressing these challenges … and India is one of my favourite countries of all I have visited.

The Workshop Management Committee (L to R): Ryan, Ramya, Ande, Michael, Pawan, Eva, and Payden. Absent: Maggie)
The Workshop Management Committee

Back and forth between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv

hi, just a quick message, managed to make it into israel yesterday, after more than four hours at the border crossing. it was nuts, but an amazing experience… and as usual the latin connection followed me, i met a Brazilian / Palestinian girl in the immigration hall, she had traveled through Dubai and Amman to get to where we were and was going to a little outside Ramallah in Palestine to visit her family.

As for me, following the border crossing, it took me almost as long as the crossing itself to get from the border to Tel Aviv where I met up with my friend Joey Seroussi.

I took two taxis from the border to the Jerusalem bus station (one was a shared taxi costing me the equivalent of US$22 or 75 shekels), then a bus from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv (18 shekels), and then a shared taxi from Tel Aviv to Joey’s place (50 shekels).

When I showed up at Joey’s place I was informed that it was the first night of Hannukah! Could i have picked a better day to arrive… a traditional meal of egg salad, eggplant salad, omelette, bread and cheese was on the table along with a fried jelly doughnut..!  Happy Hannukah to my Jewish friends all over the world!

Later in the evening, Joey took me around the city and I have to say that this place is a somewhat like a mix of Montreal and Rio de Janeiro. It’s a very “green” city (at least in the wintertime) with vibrant street scenes filled with lots of individual little store fronts, selling newspapers and magazines and pastries, coffee shops, juice bars, clothing stores, pizzerias, bagel shops, pharmacies, etc… plus from what I’ve heard it’s got an amazing nightlife.

The club Joey took me to was a private lounge he has a membership at called Shmone, which means “Eight” in English.  Eight is also meant to be Infinity (if you turn the figure eight sideways), and eight is the number of candles on the menorah, the candles that burned without going out thanks to a miracle from God (according to the Jewish religion)… in fact while we were at the club, the singer at the front of the live band and did an impromptu lighting of the menorah ceremony on stage… It was quite cool.

I’ve been told it’s a must to come back in the summertime and hit the beach and visit other parts of the country.  Perhaps a 10-day jaunt is in order for summer 2009?  Hmmm I can see the itinerary now, I’d do a couple of days in Petra which I missed this time around, as well as see the holy sights in Jerusalem which I won’t be able to see comprehensively on this visit (given the scarcity of time and the fact that I am staying with a local family in a different town).

This afternoon I went to a bookstore and picked up a Lonely Planet for Israel and the Palestinian territories.  It may sound silly, but I feel naked without.  They are great books to guide you when you’re unsure of what to do next… and they certainly help save a few shekels, pesos, or yuan or whatever the currency is onf the country you’re in!  Walking back to Joey’s place from the bookstore, I walked through suburban Tel Aviv, I came upon five Orthodox Jews (Hasidic Jews) in a children’s playground, using the swings, the merry go round and the see-saw. It was the funniest sight and I so wanted to get a photo of it, but they are very touchy about photography.  I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask but they turned me down…

An interesting point in Orthodox Judaism, at a certain point in their lives, they will go to study in a communal setting called a yasheeva, where some of them may stay for their entire lives, becoming religious scholars.  But these scholars don’t go on to teach at mainstream universities, they will pass on their knowledge to other Orthodox Jewish students…  Some of them may choose to be in the real world.  Note to self to read up more on the topics they study, and whether they share their learnings with the outside world so as to gain new perspectives.  Another interesting point of note – apparently there is a sect of Orthodox Jewism called Magna Carta, they are based in New York and are still waiting for the “promised land”, basically they do not feel that Israel is that place and they are opposed to the existence of Israel as that promised land for all Jews, everywhere.

At the moment I’m now back in Jerusalem, waiting for a bus to the Bethlehem checkpoint (7.9 shekels) at which point I will cross on foot at the Damascus Gate and try to grab a shared taxi into town.  I haven’t been able to get in touch with the guy who arranged my accommodation and am hoping I won’t have a problem once I arrive in the town.  My mobile phone is not working here (as it’s a UAE phone with provider Etisalat which not surprisingly doesn’t have a roaming agreement with the Israeli providers).

I will then be in Bethlehem for the next three nights, which is Palestine-controlled territory.  I will be staying in a little town called Douha Town (or Doha Town) with a Muslim Palestinian family.  This was all organised by a fellow I know through a girl I met when I was in Uganda in August 2008.  He works for an organisation called the Lighting Candles Organization and he set up the family stay for me. I figured it would be an amazing cultural experience to stay with a local family and also give me a better understanding of what these people go through on a day to day basis.

apologies for the somewhat disjointed nature of this posting… just some scattered thoughts I wanted to get down in writing…

Signing out for now…