Multiculturalism: 2 Aussies in a Russian-Inhabited Portuguese City in India

 

A quick Google search of “Goa” will show you this:

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Image via Google

Pretty nice right? You drooling too? Those White sandy beaches featuring palm trees and relaxed, clean vibes aren’t the only things to behold in this southern state of India. There is much more character to the vibrant ocean-side culture than displayed on the beach, and the area’s fascinating Portuguese architecture alone is reason to put your shoes and helmet on and stray inland.

My own first impression of Goa was being chased down a dark highway at 10:30 at night by an angry taxi driver who was determined to drive us to our hostel (NB: don’t express interest in one taxi driver, and then tell him later that you’ve found another way – turns out Goa airport takes their employees’ opportunities quite seriously. A suggestion would be to research every other transport option before you arrive, only falling to the horrendous airport taxi prices as a last resort).

In Goa, drug dealers seem to be as common and persistent as street vendors in crowded Mumbai – where else would you be offered “LSD or ecstasy for you, my friend” when in a traffic jam on your motor bike? (It would have been easier to ignore this had I been wearing a helmet – another of Goa’s cheeky dismissals of safety.) As a result of this easy access to nevertheless “prohibited” substances, the taxi driver we did end up escaping with (literally, we jumped into the car, locked the doors and yelled “GO” as we could see the angry airport employee running down the road), was quite content speeding along to deafening trance music while blowing puffs of his hand-rolled marijuana joint out into the Goan night/my sleepy face in the back seat.

After an hour of swerving down narrow, windy backstreets at midnight, we pulled up outside a 50s style yellow set of buildings in the bush. Much like the position of accomodation one would expect a horror movie protagonist to enter. It turns out much of Goa has a similar outback feel to it, and there aren’t really big cities in the same way there are in the other states, making it an ideal getaway.

There are, however, denser areas with amazing architecture of Portuguese influence. On route to the “Church of Immaculate Conception” (turns out it’s actually not an IVF clinic), we were stopped by “police” who were suspiciously only pulling over white people to check their licenses. My intuition says that even if we had been carrying our Australian licenses, we still would have been charged the $30 “fine” (or bribe – it’s hard to be sure).

I found that Goans, along with many other Indians I’ve been fortunate enough to come across, are excellent cooks. Every aloo (potato) dish I encountered in Goa was outstanding, and as I always examine milkshake standards, I discovered they too got a double thumbs up (unlike other areas of the country).

That said, ice cream vendors were a different story… I passed on every ice block I bought to my boyfriend for fear of permanently scarring my tastebuds, and was not impressed at the vendor’s attempts to short-change us (CHECK YOUR CHANGE!). As with other parts of India travelled, there seems to be some communication difficulty with the word “orange”. Apparently it is synonymous with “mandarin”, and if, like me, mandarins make you gag while oranges are liquid heaven, steer clear of “orange juice”. Apart from that, the communication was surprisingly ok, except when the kind people at the train station tried to poison me by sprinkling peanuts onto my rice, despite written and verbal assurance in both English and Hindi of my peanut allergy. I was waved away and brought a separate bowl of rice, while they left the peanuts in front of me. An interesting approach.

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Happy Anaphylaxis!

If there’s one thing Indians are not known for, it’s their alcohol. With a predominantly Hindu population, this is entirely understandable, but given that I tried repeatedly on the beaches of Goa to amend this common theme, it must have slipped my mind continuously. If I were to offer one piece of advice to fellow Goa explorers, it would be not to touch the alcohol unless you pour it yourself (the $2 bottle of rum we shared with our Russian neighbour as we practised the art of communication was delightful). Hopefully the only time I’ll ever secretly tip my cocktail over the wall of a beachside bar was in Goa. As it’s safer than the water, it seemed like a good idea to continue trying their drinks, including the local “fenny”, which has claimed first prize in the definition of “vile”. We were unsure if “Rainbow Bar” just served us toilet cleaner, though, by the state of the toilet, I’d assume toilet cleaner isn’t something they come across often. Maybe they should use the fenny for it and save everyone the two awful experiences.

At least the Goans can drive. Or can they? As it wouldn’t really be travelling if no one left their passport somewhere, we had to make the 90 minute taxi ride between our hostel and the airport three times in twelve hours. This included a road trip at 2 am with a car that shouldn’t have been on the road, a visually-impaired driver who stayed above 100 km/hr even in the concealed, windy back roads (sports bras can only do so much when you go over speed bumps at this speed), and barely missing a cow on the highway.

Despite the madness of Goa, I found myself instantly missing the warmth of the Indian ocean and the super relaxed atmosphere as soon as we left. A beautiful and exciting adventure for any fellow wanderlust victims.

What are the first 5 words you associate with “health”?

Today as I was driving home through Sydney’s Northern Beaches, I was considering what the first five words are that I associate with ‘Health’. Using common sense and my own life wisdom so far, I usually consider “healthy” to be synonymous with “happy”, the five words I would normally list as follows:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Energy
  3. Nourishment
  4. Stability
  5. Self-awareness.

However, after a morning of wandering round various health food stores and conversing with a bestie over the current craze – acai bowls – I landed at the following five:

Organic. Vegan. Antioxidants. Juice. Raw.

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Wandering around my favourite Sydney town, Manly

This morning I brunched at Bare Naked Bowls in Manly – a trendy, local hotspot for beachy health-lovers (so much so it needed recent renovations to triple the kitchen size). Sitting in this beloved café of mine, it dawned on me that young, white women dominated the demographic of customers. We had all paid our $15 for our organised arrangement of fruit and were chatting away in plant-based indulgence.

As a vegan and passionate member of the yogi tribe, cafes like this get me jumping, but are we all just making a delightful fuss about a smoothie in a bowl? Have we got so carried away overthinking what should be organic to our bodies that we’ve forgotten to listen to our bodies? What does “organic” mean to consumers these days anyway? Do acai bowl devotees know what antioxidants do and why they are considered valuable? I’ve begun to realise that the current social attitude towards health often seems to be based on buzzwords that people may or may not understand.

Health-food aisles are stocked with words like “paleo”, “whole” and “clean”. Is the rest of the food out there unclean? Am I going to drop dead if my soy has been genetically modified? The vegan staple of coconut oil is now worth its weight in gold, even though it is 94% saturated fat (that fat we’ve been taught to avoid like the plague – the same fat the vegan diet boasts about avoiding due to no nasty animal fats). Do customers see an “insert word here – free” product and instantly assume it is going to be beneficial to their bodies? It’s similar to the “ancient grain” movement, or virtually any food that originated in South America thousands of years ago. Since the uprise of these “superfoods”, it seems impossible now to walk through a health-conscious community without being ambushed by the sound of cutlery scraping through quinoa salad or food smothered in avocado, chia, or the latest rediscovered Incan berry.

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Organising my “superfoods” into the other great trend at the moment… jars

As a medical science graduate, I am well aware that the physical aspects of health are largely based on factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol level, metabolism, vitamin concentration and a general absence of disease, and while fruits and seeds are hardly bad for you in a conventional sense, current café culture and social media seem to have a different focus.

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#health

When did health become a hashtag on Instagram? When did it stop becoming about eating and doing what you felt like, and turn into eating and moving in accordance with what works for someone else, or to a set of circumstances that applied to generations long before us? We are told of the way our ancestors moved and ate, and that we should follow that. If it’s all about descendants and evolution, then my descendants will surely evolve to be toothless, as so much of the “health” food I’m exposed to is blended and sipped through a straw, requiring zero chewing.

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Acai bowls have even made their way into my home…

I’ve done the juice cleanses. I’ve eliminated all animal products. I’ve lived with a wheat allergy for three years (so am all too familiar with the gluten-free cult), and taken a stab at the raw food movement. Sure there is ample evidence of beneficial results when cutting out added sugar completely, but maybe such restrictive approaches to food aren’t setting up a good or realistic mindset for what “being healthy” actually means. It certainly feels like a first-world luxury to choose to ditch so many universal staples, and instead reach for an acai bowl, cold-pressed juice, or on-tap kombucha.

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Yes, there is kombucha on tap

Perhaps health extends further than the degree of genetic modification that’s on our plates. Perhaps it needs to be considered more how we feel. Inside and out. Holistically. Maybe we should be making equal fuss about the quality of our sleep, social support system, and, maybe more importantly, the way we value ourselves.