top of page

The Things We Packed

We are at the t-minus nine days point now and it is time to concentrate on packing. Considering we’re wandering digital nomads we have been quite stationary for a while: ten months in India, albeit with a month or so in Hong Kong and an unexpected six hours in the Colombo airport thanks to Typhoon Hato. We are leaving for a brief week in Singapore before two months in Penang, Malaysia, followed by Vietnam in June.

It is now time to reverse-Mary-Poppins our lives. When we arrived in monsoon-drenched Kochi in June, we had two carry-on cases and two backpacks. Our first day exploring the city saw us purchase six books and a few pouches of loose leaf tea: finally, we could buy things again! After many months of flying place to place every few weeks it felt liberating to spend money on long-term consumables. Now, almost a year later, the rice cooker and mugs need to go back to Aunty N., the pillows and sheets need to be washed and sealed into a mould-proof plastic bag for storage (who knows when we’ll need them again?), and the books placed on Grandmother’s bookshelf.

[Caption: Our luggage and an Ottapalam street dog both wanted to get out of the rain]

In the office, we need to sort through the piles of papers, decuplicate photocopies of precious documents to encourage immigration applications to go smoothly. There are tea supplier brochures and too many business cards, all sorted and tightly wrapped up in red and yellow rubberbands from the blockchain conference in Mumbai. There’s an unused SnoreGuard nose belt left behind by a friend and two strings of fairy lights that we can’t imagine are up to code. In the fridge we have an old bottle of Worcestershire sauce that has always tasted a bit odd, four individual packets of Strepsils (some guest must have brought them?) and six bulbs of garlic sitting in the butter dish. The freezer is mostly filled with frozen rounds of pita bread, freshly baked at Lulu Mall (where ‘people like you’ shop, we’ve been told multiple times), and two bags of frozen paneer mistakenly pilfered from Aunty N. There is also a pack of chorizo sausages brought from Australia in September by Vien’s Aunty G. It is so difficult to find pork products here that we have zealously rationed them to the point that we have to eat them. Same with the Cheddar and Applewood cheeses brought by Vien’s Mum, and the matcha chocolates still remain unappetising from last May’s Japanese foray.

[Caption: Our matcha selection; Matcha life hack: if you don't have a chaiwan and whisk, use a glass jar and shake. The foam is great though your hands will BURN.]

Our tea cupboard poses the greatest challenge: it is full. We will not, cannot, travel with an entire suitcase devoted to tea, especially as our next destinations of Singapore and Penang have tea firmly planted in the centre of daily life from their deep and long Chinese influence. So we are feverishly drinking tea in an effort to finish off the small packets and then only take the teas we cannot bear to lose; the big bags will have to be gifted. Our tea filters will of course come with us, safe in the new steel cups that perfectly shield them from being crushed; our travel gaiwan has not travelled with us yet and remains unaware of its impending journey. The gaiwan was one of the two greatest purchases made in the past year, as it brews tea that is far fuller and more complex than the same leaves steeped in a teapot. (The teapot, incidentally, was purchased from Lulu and will go to Aunty N.) The second greatest buy was our mosquito net. It is a lacy white tent that hunches down over our mattress, slipping off the corners but protecting us from the ravenous mozzies that arise each night. It is too large to join us, though, and so must be abandoned.

[Caption: Our tea filters + Lulu teapot + ugly table cover + pink table cover + endless To Do list + laptops + phones = Life in a photo]

Our worst purchases were the anti-pigeon netting that we bought in July and have not installed (it is still sitting in its original bag - next to the pigeons), and the badminton racquets. We happened to visit a badminton specialist shop near our flat and were excited to purchase two racquets and six shuttlecocks. They are all still in their original packaging, propped next to the pigeon netting. We may bring them to Penang in a futile attempt to remove them from the Worst Purchases list.

A pile of items will be given to the housekeeping staff that collect the rubbish each day and several items will be binned, their lifespans spent. Our clothes hamper, for example: it is a blue pop-up hamper and last month the fabric tore and one of the metal supports came out. A week after that a handle tore off, and now it is maimed and irreparable. We still put clothes in it, but mostly out of pity.

We will pack winter shirts and our light jackets, but leave behind most of the Kerala-style churidars (tunics) and leggings. They will join the pillows and duvet in storage. Our packing cubes are lined up like greyhounds at the top of our wardrobe: they are ready to get going. Two are already filled and zipped with our long-sleeve shirts and socks. One is empty apart from our laminated labels and the rest are thirsty for clothes.

[Caption: The full tunic + trousers is beautiful but very hot. This was in New Delhi and the boys swimming in the fountain were a lot cooler than I was in the 38C heat!]

We will leave our fifty-odd clothes pegs clamped to the lines on the front balcony. The coarse air from the road has degraded the plastic to such an extent that each wash results in two to three peg casualties. The next tenant can decide how many they would like to salvage.

We will give the two tenacious houseplants to Grandmother for her balcony. We will keep the teal Fortnum and Mason Tea Time tea towel gifted by my parents. We will carefully fold the Kerala saree and Vien's golden mundo purchased by Grandmother for the Onam harvest festival and the burgundy silk saree borrowed for a friend’s wedding; these will be packed away with mothballs and bittersweetness. A Kerala saree is white with gold embroidery and patterns; mine has golden mangoes, which symbolise love. A mundo, or lungi, is an ankle-length cloth worn by men around the waist. According to tradition one must purchase a new Kerala saree and mundo each year but next time we have occasion to wear these I doubt anyone will remember that they are pre-worn. The burgundy saree I wore was actually one of the more muted at the wedding, and I only wore one (borrowed) gold necklace and no bangles or earrings, as my hands are too big and my pierced ears too small to accommodate the thick gold posts.

[Caption: Sarees make up for their difficulty to wear by their beauty]

We will give Aunty N. the bright pink tablecloth that we bought from – you guessed it – Lulu to cover up the 1970s-era vinyl table cover spotted with puce and grey psychedelic flowers that came with the flat. We will also bequeath my new pair of crutches purchased only a fortnight past, in response to my sprained ankle from jumping on a rock. If only the sprain were due to fighting off a hoard of Nilgiri ibexes or from leaping from a moving train to secure breakfast. The brand of the crutches is ‘Karma’, by the way, which seems needlessly cruel.

[Caption: Really?! Karma crutches??]

We will of course take our passports, phones and laptops; the essentials to our nomadic life. And we will leave behind a note to the next tenants (a sweet family from Mumbai) wishing them all the laughter that the air con pigeon colony can give, all the distraction due to the regular parades and marches in the road below, all the luck in the world with the finicky washing machine that sometimes floods the kitchen, and all the happiness and joy that this bright, white, and airy home can give and has given, through rain and heat, calm and deadlines, coming and going.

[Caption: Click to enlarge and see the pigeon chicks and range of parades]

bottom of page