Postcards to my baby: Kathmandu

August 2018

Little one,

In 2015, there was an earthquake that destroyed large parts of Kathmandu, capital city of Nepal. When we visited, they were still rebuilding.

The side-by-side of rich and poor had never been so stark. Beside a luxury boutique hotel, a single wall, three storeys high, was being rebuilt by a dust-covered family when they finished work each night. They moved bricks until 2am, then they went out to work 4 hours later. Dhal Bhat Power, 24 Hour.

One of the best days of my life was spent on a makeshift rooftop terrace above a cafe, drinking Coca Cola with your daddy and watching the world go by, five storeys below. One of the worst days of my life was spent on the bathroom floor, then in a private hospital, where compassionate and efficient doctors gave me the news that I had lost my baby (caused by a very nasty fall in Xi’an, China). You were conceived exactly three months and several rivers of tears later, but the journey began here, for reasons I’ll explain some other time.

Visit Nepal for the food. The momos are crisp, the dhal bhat is smooth, everything is a unique fusion of Chinese and Indian, with extra cilantro (coriander). Visit Nepal for the monuments, breathtaking and almost Tibetan… but not quite. Visit Nepal for the people, so friendly and eager to show you their wonderful country. Visit Nepal for the bargains. Visit Nepal to do yoga and meditation with the masters. Visit Nepal to see Mount Everest (I’ll write you a separate postcard on that one).

But do me a favor, little one. Don’t come home with some cheap, badly-woven “angora wool”. It’s almost certainly ordinary wool woven in China, fluffed up with a hairbrush and imported. If you want stuff like that, go to Shanghai, instead. It’s cheaper. And there’s so many more things to spend time on when you see Kathmandu.

And whatever you do, don’t hire a car. Yes, your license is valid in Nepal. But 70% of the roads have literally no road surface. Leave the driving to the taxis. They will overcharge you. But we will teach you how to haggle before we let you go to Asia.

Mama Adventure xxx

New to this series? Start here.

21 ways to challenge everyday racism against Irish Travellers/Gypsies

The very first thing I ever got published was a letter to my local newspaper when I was 16. I was challenging the racist anti-Irish-traveller rhetoric that Margaret Moran, our Labour MP, was spouting. She really knew how to milk the cameras. The local news ate up her drama and so did her adoring public. I was very pleased to see her downfall during the expenses scandal. She, and our local Liberal Democrats councillors, used to put publications through our letterbox telling us all the ways they were going to get travellers out of “our community”. They thought they could make up all sorts of rubbish about travellers, because a community with low literacy cannot defend itself against printed lies. So I pushed back. We had only been in Luton for a few months and already I was seeing a duplicity, that on one hand, there were services such as Jennifer, the Traveller Education officer who fought hard to get me into a school and managed it in February of GCSE year after I’d been out of school for 3 months, preceded by 3 months in school in a different area, and before that, four more months out of school. But on the other hand there were people going door-to-door telling us what they wanted to do to get “those travellers” out of Luton.

My letter got attacked viciously by people who thought I was “a naive bleeding heart” (they assumed I was a) an adult and b) one of them, who needed teaching about the terrible otherness of travellers).

At the moment the spotlight is rightly on Black Lives Matter but a lot of people are questioning their everyday racism and racist structures in society, so I have written this list of ways you can create a positive, anti-racist environment for Irish Travellers and Romany Gypsies (Irish Traveller is one of my ethnicities; maybe I’ll talk about things that apply to the other in a different article):

  1. Pikey and gyppo are derogatory terms. Stop using them. Now.
  2. Stop assuming we are going to shoplift. There are good and bad travellers, like there’s good and bad everybody else.
  3. Challenge local councils when they put out racist information blaming their systemic failures on travellers.
  4. Befriend some travellers. It’s not a “them and us” situation. Travellers are generally friendly, like most other people in the world, if you don’t approach them from a place of racism.
  5. Tolerate them when they stop somewhere. If rubbish is an issue, contact your local council, not to get the rubbish removed, but to challenge their bylaws which state you must register your vehicle, apply for a permit, or show a council tax bill to dispose of rubbish at the recycling centre/tip. These byelaws make it virtually impossible for travellers to dispose of everyday rubbish. Imagine if the local council refused to collect your bin, how much rubbish would be in your garden? In Ireland, bin removal is a privatised service that you choose a company for, so culturally, Irish travellers in Ireland are able to dispose of their rubbish where they’re unable to do this in the UK.
  6. Don’t fall for stereotypes. We actually do pay council tax, where we own land (and houses…) in the UK. Not all travellers are UK residents, and they pay the correct tax in their locality e.g. Ireland, Germany. The easiest way of explaining this (although this is a bit of a reductionist statement) is, do you pay tax to the countries you go on holiday to?
  7. Try to separate the description of the ethnic group from the actions. Some of us live in houses and saying, “that doesn’t make you a traveller, then, does it?” is like telling an Afro-Caribbean person that they’re not Afro-Caribbean because they’re not currently living in Africa or the Caribbean.
  8. Challenge ways society tries to funnel people into living in houses against their will. Why do you need a home address to buy car insurance or road tax, instead of just a registration plate (I’m aware of the just-so story explanation of “risk” postcodes but I refute it)? Why do you need a home address to claim benefits instead of just a National Insurance number? A lot of these sort of laws impact Travellers’ quality of life, and these laws were designed for this purpose. The fact these laws also marginalize homeless people are collateral damage in a white-supremacist power structure.
  9. Challenge cultural appropriation. “Gypsy style” clothing is based on an outdated stereotype which is as offensive as dressing as a Native American. Or putting on blackface. The reason you all get away with it is because Irish Traveller is one of the smallest ethnic minorities in Europe, and Gypsy is another, and we’re generally pretty easy going and preoccupied with more interesting things in life than arguing with idiot country folk (people who are not travellers, i.e. people who have a country). We don’t walk around covered in more gold than Mr. T with money sewn into the hemlines of our skirts, our belts etc. Having said that, anyone who knows me knows I do like gold jewellery, there’s a certain permanence about it.
  10. Challenge hypocrisy: One minute, “gypsy style” clothing is the latest fashion, and in the same breath people can denigrate “gyppos” or “pikeys”. But you’ll wear clothes attributed to us.
  11. Know the differences: Gypsies and Travellers are two separate ethnic minorities under the same banner of nomads, just lumped together for UK statistics because the power structure doesn’t actually care which one we are.
  12. Challenge hipsters calling themselves nomads. They are able to easily be “nomads” because of the fact they are not, in fact, nomadic. They avail of cultural privilege such as their parents having a home address, meaning they can get their documents sent there. They avail of cultural privilege of being able to store all their stuff in their parents’ garage or attic, meaning they can wander around the world with just a carry-on. Real nomads don’t benefit from locality-privilege (IDK if that’s a real word, but it should be).
  13. Challenge “identity verification” services that require a landline phone bill or a council tax bill, or which demand to call you on your landline number to confirm your identity. These are structures put in place to disempower gypsies and travellers.
  14. Challenge power-holding systems that favour “employees” rather than “self-employed”. Most travellers (myself included) are self-employed in work we can do anywhere around the world. This means it’s hard to get a mortgage, a rental contract for a house to live in, and the taxation system makes it difficult to do casual jobs alongside “famine months” where self-employment income is low. The system isn’t set up to allow us to pay tax properly.
  15. Educate your family and friends about their attitudes and opinions. People often hit out at gypsies and travellers because it’s perceived as “acceptable racism” because they aren’t black. These same people hit out at Chinese and other non-black minorities too. Teach them that it’s not okay.
  16. Challenge power-holding systems in the UK (and this is unique to the UK) that say you can only stop in a motorway services (and other “free” car parks) for 2 hours without paying the equivalent of a hotel bill, while simultaneously making it illegal to drive tired. All over the continent, you can stop overnight in services and laybys. Lorry drivers are allowed to stop overnight in some areas of the UK. Why aren’t travellers? They have nowhere else to sleep. These car parks are completely empty overnight, the only reason people can’t overnight in them is systemic capitalist racism designed to marginalize travellers and gypsies.
  17. Stop using “white” like it corresponds to people’s skin colour. Travellers and gypsies do not generally have white privilege unless they participate in non-traveller structures (like I do. I have white privilege most of the time which I fully acknowledge, but that’s because I made a choice to live amongst you and to follow your rules). They do not have a range of privilege afforded to other non-nomadic groups. Stop excluding them from the conversation and narrative, because building an anti-racist society means creating a world where gypsies and travellers are not erased and excluded anymore.
  18. Challenge TV programmes and other media depicting an outdated vision of gypsies, conflating gypsies and travellers (two different groups), and other reductionist, racist practices (and outright erasure).
  19. Challenge laws that are purposely designed to trip up travellers, catch them out, and put them in prison. 5% of the UK prison population and 10% of the Irish prison population are Irish travellers. Amongst 12-18-year-olds, travellers make up 22% of the UK prison population. Amongst women in Ireland, travellers make up 22% of the prison population, too. Only 0.1% of the UK’s population are “gypsy or traveller” and 0.6% of Ireland’s population.
  20. Help travellers you know by providing them with references when they need them, standing up for them as character witnesses, and generally using your privilege to support them.
  21. Challenge enviromnental law-makers who assume people have houses when they are lobbying for policy changes. Travellers who live full-time in caravans do not have the storage space to avail of many of the “reduce your waste” initiatives, such as bulk buying loose produce (where would they put all the billions of empty reusable containers they would need?) and often, these come to you printed on leaflets (and at least 40% of travellers are illiterate), so the chances are they cannot access information about recycling, packaging etc. Bear in mind that two hipsters in a van can easily do things that a family of six in the same space cannot. Environmental laws need to enable travellers to reduce and recycle their waste at every level.

I hope to write a separate article on how educators and schools can enable travellers to succeed, but I’ll need to pull my thoughts together first.

Postcards to my baby: Pattaya

Christmas Day 2017. Twenty-four degrees celsius, if you can believe it. Blue, cloudless sky, punctuated only by palm trees. The sound of the sea, gently rising up the clean sand, leaving gifts of shells for me to find. The calls of men selling hats, water bottles and street food on long bamboo poles or hand-carts as they amble up and down the beach.

For our Christmas dinner, we went to the Hard Rock Café Pattaya, and had a delicious English-style Christmas dinner complete with turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes, gravy and all the trimmings. After four months in East Asia, it was like coming home, without having to actually go back to England with all its problems.

After we had eaten, a group of twenty or so children arrived and took to the stage, singing Christmas carols they had learned in their English lessons, and their teacher explained how the school had been set up for them. Education is widely seen as the key to ending poverty, and in countries where literacy is low, getting schools built and teachers trained is very important.

I hope by the time you are old enough to see Thailand for yourself, those children are out changing the world and teaching the next generation.

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This is part 2 of my Postcards to my Baby series. Part 1 here. All photos copyright MamaAdventure.

A Template Letter to ask Police to use Bodycams at all times. Send it wide!

Dear Police Department,
I am writing to let you know that I strongly support the use of bodycam and dashcam footage for all law enforcement officers. This is for your benefit and the benefit of the community. Impartial bodycam footage can indemnify you and protect you as much as it can prove allegations against racist cops.

Please let your officers know they should be using bodycams at all times, and ensure they are provided with the resources, training, and workplace policies/culture to be able to do this.

I am also concerned about police violence and I would like it to be known that I do not support or endorse the use of unnecessary force against protesters. Violence does not de-escalate violent situations. It is being disproportionately used against persons of color and this is not acceptable. The police should be protecting people and keeping the peace, not attacking peaceful demonstrators.

Police officers should be using “sideways management” within the force to stop their colleagues from being racist, to challenge racist assumptions, and to report upward through the chain of command any incidents of racism either perpetrated against police officers of color or against the wider black/minority community.

Black lives matter.

Yours sincerely,
A concerned citizen.

A photo a week challenge: Just for Fun

This photography challenge comes from Nancy Merrill Photography. The challenge was something fun. My contribution is a photo of Hogwarts castle, from Harry Potter, which I took in 2019 at Universal Studios, Japan while I was pregnant last Spring.

Japan was so much fun. I think Japan and South Korea were my two favourite countries to visit in Asia. I would definitely like to spend more time there one day.

 

Postcards to my Baby: Shanghai’s Old Town

Dear A.

One day, you’ll see China for yourself and understand why I can’t describe it very well in one postcard. It is a land of opposites, complications, and yet… simplicity.

On one hand, the bureaucracy to do anything at all is intense, and often requires an app which only mostly works in English, until you’re trying to do anything complicated. On the other, in rural areas, life has never been burdened with problems like technology, literacy, money or germ theory. Truly.

The nuances across this vast land are stark. This postcard is of the old quarter of Shanghai. It might not be a quarter. Vendors sell whole fried squid on a stick and tourists line up down the street to buy them. In the narrowest alleys, people hang their washing on the electrical wires and they look like a canopy of multicoloured trees above a rusty rainforest of decay, but no birds venture here. The sky is white with pollution.

What no photo can ever convey is the smell. This area stinks of fermented pig urine. In the distance, skyscrapers loom. The clean, sleek future, eclipsing the murky past. Even during the Mid-Autumn lunar festival, few tourists venture down these side streets, funneled away by mapping apps and official, approved guides.

When you get here, this urban wilderness might be gone; replaced by more skyscrapers filled with things China wants to be known for, instead of what it is. A land leaving its winter, its identity is as changeable as the tide. I hope you will see it in Spring, once the sakura blossoms.

Maybe, if I’m lucky, you will see me in my Springtime, too.

Lots of love,

Mama Adventure

This is part one in a series of postcards I have written to my baby while I was still pregnant, telling them about what we did before they were born.

Part 2 is here.

A photo a week challenge: Peaceful Place

The creative geniuses around WordPress are finding ways to keep the now-defunct weekly photo challenge alive. This challenge comes from Nancy Merrill Photography. The challenge was a place that brought you peace. My contribution is a photo I took in 2018 at Lake Tahoe, just a few miles up the road from the town of South Lake Tahoe, on the Nevada side, in the USA. Honestly, I have never felt so at peace and at ease as I did on this quiet retreat. I’d just driven down from the dusty hustle of Reno where I’d been for a big author conference, and after that toxic, smoky environment, the clean air and abundance of nature at Lake Tahoe was nourishing.

I would live there if I had any chance at all of getting a US residence visa.

IMG_1717 fix

Look at this baby with Covid-19. Still want to travel?

I honestly don’t know how anyone can look at this tiny 6-month-old baby in hospital, on a ventilator that’s too big for her so had to be taped over at the top, fighting to survive, and how, after seeing her, they can still contemplate making unnecessary journeys for stupid reasons. Her name is Erin Bates. Full article here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-52269084

In related news, I’m so angry at my Mother in Law and Father in Law right now. Yesterday they admitted they have been making several unnecessary 100-mile-round-trip journeys and so has my Sister in Law. Why? Because apparently renovating a house that she doesn’t even live in is more important than following the rules and staying at home.

This is the same sister in law who sent me a happy mother’s day card. There’s no weird Oedipal twist of incest, I’m not her mother, I didn’t marry my son. She just needed a reason to spread germs and put postal workers at risk delivering something to a different country.

I ripped it up when it arrived because Mother’s Day is hard for me. I know I was being a bit petty but you’d think people who had known me for 10 years would know how hard Mother’s Day is because my parents are dead.

They’re just so oblivious of other people.

Don’t travel. Stay at home. Look back at past travel photos. Plan future trips. Don’t kill other people by spreading this. So many people think it’s harmless if it’s just them. They’re putting themselves at risk, and they’re endangering others by spreading it before the symptoms show.

In Pictures: Shanghai, China

So I went to Shanghai a few weeks ago, during the mid-Autumn festival, and here are some of the pictures:

shanghai old town2
Shanghai Old Town

shanghai old town1

 

Shanghai river bank

spiral escalator before this one in a Shanghai shopping mall
Are these common outside of Europe? I’d never seen a spiral escalator before this one in a Shanghai shopping mall.
Shanghai river bank3
A literal wall of flowers in Shanghai near the river and bund.

Overall, it was a lovely city, but if you weren’t coming to China to see some other things as well (or at least coming to this corner of the world to visit other nearby countries) I’m not sure it’s worth the time and expense to come only to Shanghai from the US or Europe as a tourist. Definitely a lovely place to go if you’re already within a thousand miles or so, though, and the shopping here is fabulous. There are so many markets and shopping malls that you’re sure to find some nice things while you’re here!

Shanghai also has a recently-opened Disneyland. If/when I get the time/opportunity to go there, I will show you what that’s like, too.

In China for the foreseeable

It’s been quiet on this blog for a few weeks because I’ve been hurriedly packing a 3-bedroom house into 2 suitcases, then renovating parts of it so my friends could move in (they’ve taken the rabbits with the house, so don’t worry, the bunnies are safe and happy), getting all the official nonsenses sorted out and generally moving from Britain to Asia.

We arrived into Shanghai the day before yesterday.

The furthest I’d been before now was Rome, Italy. I’ve been as far as Italy three times, but I was starting to wonder if the world ended at the stiletto heel tip of Otranto.

I have also done some significant renovating to this blog. A few categories are gone, now, because those are things I can’t talk about while I’m here. I can’t take comments on them while I’m here either, sorry. It was delete some posts or delete the entire blog. At the same time, I took the opportunity to remove some of the 1-2 sentence posts that were life updates for regular readers. You guys have all read them, and they’re cluttering up my page organization, so they’re gone too. There’s probably more of those that have gone than anything serious. Overall, about 100 posts have disappeared from the site. I’m a little reluctant to do that from an accurate-record-keeping point of view, but it’s for the best from a clearer-blog-layout perspective (and let’s not get my website blocked in the country I’m living in because then I wouldn’t be able to update any more, and so many sites are blocked here).

So far, all I’ve seen of China has been Shanghai airport, which is the biggest airport I’ve ever seen (admittedly I’ve only seen 3 other airports, including the one I left Britain from), and my apartment. There’s been a couple of brief trips to fulfil official requirements but that’s all. I’m hoping there’s a chance to see and do things but my husband’s work started pretty much straight away, and I don’t have any Chinese money (or any way of getting any) or much independence due to our living situation, so the seeing/doing will have to wait a little while.

Also, it is HOT. Like, it’s been 35 degrees (95 Farenheit) this whole time. We have air con in our apartment. On the stairwells, in the bathroom and outdoors, however, it is seriously hot. The heat is so… liquid, like it clings to me and gets inside my body, then I’m exhausted all the time. The day starts and ends around 30 degrees and it just gets hotter. And it’s always sunny. It’s incredible. I’m interested to see what winter is going to be like.

More pertinent to this blog, of course, I am SO GODDAMN EXCITED to be able to buy and try out more Korean, Japanese, and other Asian beauty brands and techniques while I’m here!