Sunday, 18 December 2016

my kind of PINK.....

With the festive season round the corner, my 4-year has been trying hard to convince me that Santa will be arriving soon and it's time for her gift too. It's a different story that her wish-list changes by the hour. Till now we have had four gifts that have dropped off her list.

The latest one she chose got me ticking- a remote control car with a steering wheel as a remote control- all in PINK. That got me thinking. Would I really be able to find that for her?

Can girls not really get to choose a car in their favorite color as their toy? My 4-year old has often questioned 'norms' of life- she would surprisingly bracket me as the 'most hardworking and busiest' person in our home, if she finds me working from home on a weekday she will quip "hope you relaxed a bit today". So any comment from her is never taken lightly by me.

She would tell me about conversations at class where Boy A would tell her that girls need to like pink and boys like blue/green/orange/yellow. Of course she hates to hear my counter argument. My take of every color being just a color and not a 'boy color' or 'girl color' often fails. 

It was a not-so-subtle reminder that kids don’t know everything, any more than adults do — and it was also a reminder that some of us aren’t squashing some of our kids views. This should be an easy one to get rid of, even if toy stores continue to fill “girl” aisles full of pink LEGOs or dolls. Because all it requires to change your child’s opinion is to talk to him or her. If all parents sit down with their children and tell them that identifying boys or girls by colors is wrong, the kids will have no choice but to understand that.

At this level of thinking, there is no middle ground. This isn’t about making your kid like your favorite sports team; this is about making sure your child is accepting of all people, no matter what their favorites are. It’s about ensuring that all kids feel comfortable being themselves. 

Yes, girls can like pink; yes, boys can hate pink. No, your child does not have the right to tell someone he isn’t being a boy because he likes the color pink — or that a girl has to like pink “because she’s a girl or that she won't find her favorite toy in her favorite color just because girls are not expected to play with it.” 


So while my search for the most awesome PINK remote control continues, my 4-year old has smartly decided to settle for a red one :-)

Sunday, 20 November 2016

done and dusted....

Great Eastern Women's Run 2016
Done and dusted is what I can say after finishing my first 21.1km-half marathon recently. Signed up in a moment of jiffy (and most tell me that's really the only way you can make up your mind for such acts), the last 3 months felt nothing less than a roller coaster ride. 

A few days back when I was in a taxi on my way to pick up my #GEWR2016 race pack, the taxi driver (a young a lad) had an interesting chat with me. He himself had run several 10-km run's but never a half marathon. The entire 15-minute ride was all about his running journey, his weight loss saga and why staying fit was important to him. Sounded a lot like my story. As I alighted, he said something very nice to me, "Don't give up. You have come a long way and that finish line will never seem too far after all this."

Like I said, I signed up in a 'jiffy'. There was an urge to run this race, but I knew there were going to be several hurdles that would come my way. My work routine, long distance running (that seemed like a challenge in front of my usual 5-6km I was used to), a strict strength training routine, family holidays- that break the momentum, hectic weekends that make it nearly impossible to get to those early morning runs, making sure training doesn't eat into family/kids time etc etc etc (the list was long). The body gave up several times in many weeks, but the mind somehow stood strong.

The last three months was about running regularly (I'd like to believe I did), yet it never seemed enough. I never managed to run more than 12 km in a single run and I was probably at my most unfit stage since the last three years. But I didn't want to give up. It was time for me to prove to the girls what I keep telling them- that it's all about being there and enjoying the moment. 

This journey started three years ago for me, when running even a kilometer was a struggle. Several factors pushed me then- the Salveo Mantra running club and my buddies there, my determination to lose weight, to stay fit for my girls (and the thrill to beat them in a race). I was never the perfect runner, ran at my own pace and ran slow. The distances fluctuated, but there was never an ambition to run a long-distance race any day. 

I have always felt the biggest joy of my fitness journey has been my 'no goal' approach. When I started losing weight, I never knew how much I wanted to lose (though am sure my dear buddy and personal trainer then will differ with me on this) and when I started to run, I never knew when I would stop.

The morning of my race when I left home at 4:30am, my heart felt heavy. I was ready to face the test with a single focus- to make the most of this personal victory. For me it was all about getting to that 'start line' (and never about the finish line). As I started to run my first half marathon, I remembered what the taxi guy had said to me and realized he was right- the finish line just didn't seem too far.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Cambodia- fond memories for life.....

Its been a few week's since my 9-year old and I got back from our adventure trip to Cambodia. From the time I made up my mind to go on this trip, it felt nothing short of an adventure. This was my first solo trip with my girl with a social objective. Something I hadn't done in years (maybe the last one was when I was in school) and a first for her.

When I chanced upon 'Caring for Cambodia' in the CISTK school newsletter, after a quick read I just let it pass. A few days later, the thought kept coming back to my mind- is this something I could do with her, would it be a worthwhile experience, will we really make a difference, etc. The decision was taken and we both decided to take part in a school volunteering program in Siem Reap for 3 days.

As days passed by, the tasks were clear. We were told we will be building a portion of a school compound wall. We would be doing this along with students/parents from other schools from Singapore. After many discussions and apprehensions we were both on the flight to Siem Reap. There was an eerie silence between us till we landed in Cambodia.

We had a clear agenda on what needed to be done at the school but the 'hidden agenda' was to make friends, mingle with the local workers, try to work in a team, break the ice with everyone around. Hours passed by, the group started chatting- we now knew a bit more about each other than just our names- where we came from, our association with Singapore, a bit about our families. With 9 of us in the group and each one from a different country, we had enough to chat about. Each meal together and every tuk-tuk ride we took made it only better.

In less than two days and under harsh conditions, we completed our task, literally earning some free time to see Siem Reap. Though the objective was to see Angkor Wat, Bayon,Tha-Promh but those few hours spent together actually bonded us (even the adults). The kids mingled like they knew each other for years, played the silliest of games, the adults even got some serious 'Pokemon' lessons from the kids.The flight back to Singapore was a contrast to our onward journey. Most of the gang was on the same flight and we could only hear laughter's, giggles and chatter. The ice had indeed been broken.

Now when I think back on what I hoped to achieve on this trip it seems a bit unclear- yes we had intentions to do some 'good' work (and I'd surely like to believe that we did), but I think it truly turned out to be more a personal high for both of us- just knowing that we could work in a team, make new friends, bond in a new environment, withstand a few hardships and make the most of every moment we spent together on a trip like this. As we landed back in Singapore, we both smiled at each other and the message was loud and clear for us- we both felt nothing less than 'winners'.
The group with the 'Caring for Cambodia' team

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Penang-a hidden treasure in Malaysia

An impromptu 48-hour trip over a long weekend turned out to be one of the most fun holidays we have had as a family.  Credit goes to the pace of the place, where we stayed, all that we did (and probably didn’t do). Our dinner table conversation a few days back was a quick family vote on where we could head for an upcoming long weekend break. Some of the favoured ones were Kohsamui, Langkawi, Kuala Lumpur, Medan, Yogyakarta and Penang. The bent was towards Penang and Yogyakarta. Flights and accommodation made our decision a bit easier. So it was Penang!

For the kids, it was all about getting away. For us, we had heard enough about the place from friends- food, culture, the vibe- we had only heard good things. Our trip to Hoi An (Vietnam) last year was memorable and made us realise- small towns, slow pace of life, happy faces are some of the ingredients that makes our holiday enjoyable. Tickets were booked and our search for accommodation took a little longer.

We had two choices- Battu Ferranghi- beach town in Penang (that houses all your famous hotels- Shangri-La, Hard Rock Hotel, etc) or Georgetown- the quainter side of Pe
A typical lane in Georgetown
nang. When you go with young kids, the former should have been our obvious choice. But we decided to take a different turn and look for options in Georgetown. This meant, we were looking for heritage homes (maybe no pool for the kids), no restaurants in the property, no kids club. With few days in hand, we had only a handful of options to choose from. A dear colleague recommended we browse- http://says.com/my/lifestyle/heritage-boutique-hotels-penang (a great site for boutique properties in Georgetown).

For those unaware, Georgetown has a long and illustrious history under its belt, is Penang’s capital city and is one of the most interesting and colourful cities in Malaysia. Named after King George III, walking down the streets of Georgetown is like walking through the paths of history. As acknowledgment of its well-preserved cultural and historical heritage, the city was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on the 7th of July 2008.

So here is a list of all that we did in our 48-hour stay in Penang.
Where to stay
Clove Hall Residence
If you are looking to experience Penang in it’s true sense, choose a heritage/boutique property. You see tonnes of them as you drive along Jalan Burma or the various roads in Georgetown.  We chose Clove Hall Residence, 11, Clove Hall Road (as in the picture) for our stay. Anything I say about this home will not be sufficient. From the owners (Jim and Jo), to the staff, to the ambience, to the d├ęcor, to the quaintness, it’s a perfect combination of all elements. The owners of this property will make you feel like a ‘family guest’. From the perfect breakfast laid out in one of the many cosy corners of the garden area, to the freshly brewed coffee you can have day long, the staff will ensure that you are well taken care of.  If you are looking for some privacy, some quiet family time, this home is
Interiors
a perfect choice. The kids loved the open space, the pool, and the lawns.  I was informed later by the owners that this property was mentioned in reasonable detail in the book titled, “1000 places to see before you die” by Patricia Schultz, 2015, Workman Publishing, New York. 2nd Edition.


Things to do
Day 1
The things you do in Penang can vary depending on what you wish to experience. If you are a foodie, you can spend your whole day just eating the variety of food the place has to offer. If you like sightseeing, there is enough for you to see. We wanted to do a bit of both. We were not keen to stand in long queues, drive long distances etc. A lot of the typical, touristy places went off our list. We stuck to places that were close by and appealed to all (in the family). 

Our adventure started with a lunch at ‘The Little Nyonya Cuisine’- a restaurant popular for its namesake cuisine in Gurney Plaza. The choices on the menu were too many- but everyone finally settled for their favourite. The seafood/fish in this restaurant is a must try. The biggest surprise element for us was a ‘Hindi’ speaking waiter at this restaurant. 

The next hop was Chew Jetty.  Having built on stilts on the shores for the Chew Clan community more than a century and is still now, the Chew Jetty has withstood the test of time and a strong testament of living heritage for Penang and the world to mesmerize.
Chew Jetty
Started merely as a wooden passageway and slowly created into a cluster of houses perched above the sea shores by stilts above the never ending shifting tides, this communal site is locked in a time zone by itself, disregarding the urban development that is taking place around it. A walk down this lane was an eye opener for the kids. 

The biggest attraction of Georgetown is Old Town/ Armenian Street. Lying within the core zone of the Georgetown World Heritage Site, the street is surrounded by Chinese Temples and Clan Houses, as well as the nearby mosques of Acheen Street and Kapitan Keling. The street itself is full of charming shop houses, artists galleries, cafe's and some of the best of Penang's street art can be found around this area. The area is famous for the many murals painted on the walls of the street. A walking lane, it has several pit stops you can make while strolling. The street comes alive with live music and lot of shops on the street. Make sure you hire a rickshaw from one of the many shops and ride it all along the street.
One of the many murals in Old Town

We ended our fun evening with dinner at Chinahouse, a place highly recommended by a friend. Don’t be surprised by the long walk you need to take once inside the restaurant, to find your spot.  With a unique concept, Chinahouse has several restaurants in the same premise. You can choose your table based on the choice of food and ambience you would like. We went for the noisy ‘Canteen’ area. Even before we ordered our main course, our desserts were ordered. This place is known for its cakes. The spread is to die for. So make sure you go slowly on that main course.


Day 2
We decided to venture towards Battu Ferranghi (to see the part of Penang that we chose not to stay at) - 20 minute drive from Georgetown. As you drive down the area, you can see all the beach resorts in a line. This is also where the world’s largest butterfly park is located. Again strongly recommended by friends, this was on our list. We were surprised. Entopia is a tropical sanctuary for the planet’s little denizens from those that fly freely in the sky to the ones that creep stealthily beneath the ground. With plenty to discover from outdoor adventures to cavernous mysteries and a multi-storey Indoor Discovery Centre, there was something for everyone here.

Our lunch stop was a hill-top Thai restaurant in the Tropical Spice Garden (in Battu Ferranghi) called-Tree Monkey. With a bit of a steep climb (by foot), the restaurant offers magnificent views of the ocean and is perfectly set on a tree top. 

There are a few things about Penang that will stay with you for life- the pace of life, the mix of old and new, the choice of food, friendly and helpful people, the white and blue Chinese crockery, white coffee (Penang is famous for), traditional biscuits- Tambun.
The famous white-blue Chinese crockery

With just a few hours left for us to head to the airport, I decide to head to ‘Hong Giap’, one of the oldest antique and crockery stores in Penang. Located on Penang Road, the owner prides in showing me the picture of the store taken 60-years ago (as in the picture). Of course, I made sure I brought back some of the old Chinese white-blue crockery for my home.

As we headed to the airport, each one of us had built our stories from this holiday. If the butterfly park was the highlight for the 4-year old, the murals and the umpteen photographs he clicked were the high points for my husband. The 9-year old thrived riding the rickshaw by herself (and will never forget bumping into her class teacher on a street in Penang) and for me it was the perfect blend of being big yet small, being modern, yet historical. A place where as you walk along, you can see time has stood still. 

Photo courtesy: Aditya Gupta

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Every generation has a gap...

Sunday- 8:15am- It's a quiet Sunday morning (for now). I quickly steal a few minutes and sit on my desk to pen this blog. It's been on my mind for a while, but those 'quiet' moments are a bit rare now. 

A few days ago on the breakfast table, my 9-year old quipped, "Can I quickly have your phone? I need to google and check something before I head to school." So I just
commented- life is so easy for you now. In our days, if we needed any information, we had to ask a friend/teacher/parent or rely on the newspaper. She was startled. It was a bit tough for her to digest. 

The same day I had a talk with my mum-in law and she mentioned the youngest generation (her grand kids) are so advanced and this is probably what they call a 'generation gap'. She commented, "how independent kids are now at such a young age, how focused they are and how easily they adapt." As parents, of course its hits me more than when I was a kid (and am sure my parents felt the same).

In my childhood, I am sure I challenged my parents as well at every stage- be it my decision to focus on my badminton professionally while in school (which led me to de-focus from studies for a few years), then my compelled decision to drop badminton (due to injury and focus back on school and studies), my decision to take off on a one-year long International Exchange  Programme to Germany right after college (and not take on the traditional path to pursue a Master's degree), the decision to set foot into a career that no one knew anything about (not even me), start working at a very young age and living alone (and with no mobile phones to track my whereabouts). Am certain each of these were 'generation gap' challenges. But they sailed through. Not once was I told 'No'. 

Now when I deal with my 9-year old at every stage, I try to get inspired by every decision my mum took with so much ease. I don't recollect a single argument/ disagreement for any of the decisions I made. I realise, each of those decisions led to my growth as a person. If something taught me to be independent, the other to be responsible, if my foray into sports taught me to be disciplined then every failure or defeat gave me the strength to take on every challenge with a smile. 

As I reflect, am sure it must have been tough for them to fathom their younger daughter's decision to not take on an academic route (when they had a brilliant brain in their elder one).

Accepting my daughter's unconventional ways of thinking/arguing, her bent towards technology, her independent streak as a mere 9-year old puts me on the 'generation gap' spot. I am certain challenges my mum faced when I was 18 years, will probably hit me faster.

I kind of relate to this 'gap' now and only hope I can wade through it the same way my mum did, and give both my girls the wings they want to fly (their way).

Monday, 16 May 2016

friends forever

As I crawl back to my routine, I struggle with my early morning alarm. My mind rewinds to the hectic two weeks I had bringing in the big ‘4’ for some of my closest friends or I should say 'our' closest friends. Friends who live far away from me, friends for whom we have traveled miles just to be there with them on their big day.

People are amused when I said that was away  to visit friends and just to be with them on their big day. A few years back, I probably would never have done such a thing. I used to often wonder on what’s the big deal of hitting this milestone. But over the last few years, I have been witness to some dear friends crossing this line and it made me realise it’s not just ‘another’ birthday celebration.

These are friends who have been part of different phases of my life. Some from school, some from my work days, and some I just met by chance (even at a birthday party). When and how did these friends become an integral part of my life? Is it because I have been away from family for long? I have spent childhood in half a dozen schools but I still remember the names of friends I made there. Thanks to technology, I manage to stay in touch with them even now. We exchange jokes, birthday wishes, kid’s photos regularly. We have no idea when we will meet each other, but this open communication has tied me to them.

One of them visited me recently after almost five years. We took off instantly. Our kids knew each other (through pictures they had seen), we didn’t need to update each other on our lives and we spent the whole evening laughing about our college days and desperately trying to work out a schedule when the gang could meet and we failed badly!! But I still haven’t given up!

Ironically I celebrated my 40th a week ago too. The celebration was nothing short of a wedding (even my wedding was not so grand and fun). It was not about the number of people who attended, but the mood it brought along, the friends who traveled from far and near just to be with me on that day. Every moment was special. It was a true celebration of years of friendships, times we have shared together and an ode to our next few years together.
I don’t worry about the extra inches I may have put on. I rather smile over all the silly things we did, the insane fun we had and seal it up for the next decade we shall cross together.

Strangely, my 8-year old passed an interesting comment on the breakfast table a few days ago. She probably could read the excitement on my face the last few days. She said there seems to be only one common thing between you and me (her mum and her). We both ‘live’ for our friends. She is right- we are both strikingly different personalities yet we can go our arm and length for our friends. When I was a kid my mum often joked that I could die for my friends. I see the same spirit in my daughter too. She values her relationships; she stands by them at any cost. As for me, I can do with a birthday celebration like this every five years! No complaints at all!!

Thursday, 10 March 2016

the 'imperfectly perfect' me...

Thursday: At times, I would be thinking for days and I wouldn't know what to write about. Then there will be this talk I have with my girls (8 years- going on 10 and 3 years- going on 8!!!) and I have ideas running in my head...

My elder one and I often have these talks about my childhood, my work life, our life in Dubai, my single days. It often ends up in laughter as most of the stories don't sound like it was 'me'. She can't believe that her mum could have also made mistakes (or still does) and that I am 'imperfect'. A recent incident of me misplacing my younger one's all-time favorite 'Minnie Mouse' umbrella in a public bus, excited her as for a change it was my time to apologise to the 3-year old!

Over the years we all change. Even I have. More so after becoming a mother. If my elder one has taught me to be perfect, the younger one has taught me to 'chill'. If my home is 'spic and span', my cupboard is not. If I am 'perfect with my work deadlines', my route to deliver is surely not (more often than not am sweating about finishing a feature and my notes are a mess). If my husband asks for a paper, I am first to point a finger at him for misplacing it. Landing up at the airport with wrong flight tickets (thank god now for e-tickets), even on a wrong day, many a times walking out of my apartment without the keys, all this was norm for me. Yet I stood tall, independent, ready to face any challenge. My mum often worried (I'd like to believe she doesn't worry any more) and hoped that I would have a 'trouble free' day soon.

Today I stand at another crossroad of my life. It seems like a 'pit stop' I took and now it's time to move on. The girls have grown up (with one  getting independent day by day and the other in a big hurry to get there), they need me lesser (except for the rare school visits). But the last four years have changed me drastically- I have learnt to ease up, enjoy every moment I have, not sweat over the mistakes I make (even if it's related to motherhood) and surely not be too busy.

My venture into 'writing' was a path I discovered. It comes from my nature of 'accepting change' easily and 'being brave'. Brave to try something new, to fail, to fall and still get up and walk. I attribute that to the 'start up' streak in me.

After almost four years , I recently undertook a PR project for an old client of mine from my Dubai days. I was nervous. The expectations from me were high. I stumbled too but I absolutely enjoyed doing it. It proved PR is my 'first love' (and the only career I ever had). So what's next for me? Should I go back to my first love or stick to my new fond hobby. My likelihood of succeeding in PR is probably more, but it may take away a lot of the intangible luxuries I have so got used to. Then I remind myself- to be brave and to be ready for every change! I will let time take its course on this one....

The mesage this TED talk left me with is apt- to be comfortable with imperfection (click to read)- a lesson I have been working overtime on to impart to my 8-year old!!The strength to raise her hand in a class and admit that she doesn't get it, to accept she is not perfect with her Chinese and her spellings (though she forever argues that she will always have 'spell check' for back-up), and just to follow her heart. I think she is 'right' about the spellings bit- don't think her generation will ever write on paper!! 

The 8-year old's project
The last few days she had been talking of a project she has been working on at school. Even the 3-year old was curious of the status everyday. So today I was at her school to attend the exhibition.  Her's wasn't the best one, but it was an effort made from the heart and with no help- so it was special. The tower she created is a perfect example of her walking on the path of being 'imperfectly perfect'.