Thursday, 27 June 2013

10 life lessons

 
1. Life is too short to waste it by hating someone. 
2. Every problem has a solution.
3. You will cross the bridge when you come to it.
4. If there is something to crib about, it has to change.
5. Eat. Delete.
6. Don't compare yourself to others."Why would you compare how tangy an orange is compared to a beach? They’re not similar things."
7. Simplify your life, relationships, expectations and possessions.
8. Change is the only constant.
9. What other people think of you is none of your business.
10. You can love unconditionally.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Singapore Haze

Smoke from forest fire in Indonesia has shrouded Singapore with Pollutant Standard Index(PSI) hitting all time high at 401. Anything above PSI 100 is unhealthy and 300 is just hazardous.
PSI Value Air Quality Descriptor 0 - 50 Good 51 - 100 Moderate 101 - 200 Unhealthy 201 - 300 Very unhealthy Above 300 Hazardous - See more at: http://app2.nea.gov.sg/anti-pollution-radiation-protection/air-pollution/psi/psi-and-pm2-5-readings#sthash.qK6Uq0bp.dpuf
View of Singapore eye at PSI 401- Yahoo photos.
It is an yearly event for Indonesian farmers to burn their plantation just before mansoon. But this time the fire is intense because of extreme dry weather. Even Indonesian oil companies have participated in annual burning of farms by burning their palm oil plantation. This has escalated the situation in Singapore and southern Malaysia with PSI hitting hazardous levels.

Yahoo photo

In an otherwise safe Singapore we have major drama ensuing because of haze.

 - Politicians are blaming and pressurising Indonesia (rightfully) for the haze situation.

 - Indonesia in response has chided Singapore for behaving like a child. It has responded positively too, by deploying fire fighting planes as haze worsens in Singapore and Malaysia. Indonesia has also released names of 8 companies which may be involved in starting forest fires.

NASA Photo

 - Malaysia shut down schools when the PSI hit 300. This has caused anxiety and frustration among Singapore residents. Singapore PM Lee has maintained that there will be no closing down of businesses in Singapore and that life must go on. Assessing the situation there might be reduced work hours and outdoor exposure but that is as far as what we can expect.

 - Amidst all these there is panic among residents for getting respiratory masks.
People queuing up at hospitals for N95 masks. Yahoo photo
A colleague of mine had purchased masks at 20$(original price 10$) on 20th June. When some of us from office went to purchase masks from the same shop on 21st afternoon the guy had run out of masks but was ready to take advance orders at 75$ per pack!! He claimed that he has to hand carry masks from Australia!! Simple theory of Demand and Supply!!

We haven't opened doors and windows in house for the past 4 days. Its very stuffy to stay indoors. Haze visibility has improved today but the smell and pollution still persists. PSI was high even today morning at 322. This is expected to continue for another month or so but may be not at high PSI. Thank god for air conditioner at homes that life is going easy despite haze.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Austrailian food

Australia is a foodie's paradise. With people and culture so diverse, one can imagine the diversity in food, its range and quality. There is Greek precinct with an array of Greek cafes and restaurants, Chinatown precinct for Chinese delicacies, Lygon street for Italian and so on.

Being a vegetarian is not at all difficult in Australia. Every food place has quite a few vegetarian options. As I was in budget mode I couldn't explore restaurants in Australia but here are some of the things that I tried in food courts and mid range cafes.

Mine and your favorite Coffee:
Australians love their coffee to the point of obsession. They take their coffee as seriously as their beer. Australians whose families migrated from Greek and Italy introduced coffee culture in Australia. Australia can be considered one of the world's great coffee lovers.

Vegemite, Concentrated yeast extract:
Source: Wikimedia
This is one of Australia's very own, most widely eaten as breakfast. It is a thick black gooey "spread" eaten with cheese crackers and bread. This is a byproduct of beer brewing, a concentrated yeast extract. This is more of an acquired taste, like Durian of Malaysia/Singapore. It has a bitter and sour taste that shocks you on your first bite.

Greek - Veg Souvlaki:
This is a traditional greek food. Souvlaki is Pita sandwich of crispy vegetable(/chicken) kebabs in a bed of crunchy lettuce and onions with tzatziki(creamy cucumber yoghurt) sauce. This sandwich was so filling that I could only finish half of it. I have nothing to compare this to. This was my first taste of any kind of Greek cuisine. I will watch out for this one. Love.

Italian: Pasta, one of my comfort food.
Penne pasta with roasted cauliflower, red onion and garlic breadcrumbs, spiced with chilli flakes.
Y-U-M. 

Asian: Asian food is popular in Melbourne. I could find more vegetarian options in Melbourne than in any Asian countries.
 Thai food - Sweet and spicy vegetarian fried rice and crunchy fried sinful spring rolls complete with sweet dipping sauce.

Stir fried vegetables in fiery Thai red curry and rice. 

 Creamy Alu-matar-palak(Potato, peas and spinach) and spicy, tangy chole (chick peas) with yellow rice. Cooling thick Mango lassi to go with. Wish they had soft rotis to go with all the yummy side dishes.

Gado gado is an indonesian salad that had many levels of texture to it which was what I loved about this dish. There was stir fried crunchy vegetables, fried tofu, boiled cauliflower and raw lettuce. This was served with rice and strong flavorful peanut sauce.

One thing that I regretted:
This was served as stir fried noodles. Utter disappointment.
The noodles were slimy, the sauce sour and vegetables overcooked.This was a confused dish. It seemed like the cook started with pasta in mind but midway he decided to change it to stir friend noodles!! *Shudder*

Finally for Austrailian dessert - Lamington cakes.
www.taste.com.au
Vanilla cake in a generous coating of chocolate ganache and rolled over dessicated coconut.
I remember eating 2 pieces of this simple yet delicious cake.

Licorice Raspberry bullets:
chocolatefish.com.au
A friend of mine recommended these chocolates to me and I thank him for that. These are nothing like I have eaten before. It has a soft melting outer layer with Raspberry jelly at the core. I bought a big packet to share with colleagues and friends but everyone loved it at home so much that we finished it all by ourselves :-)

These are just a few things that I tried. Some of the food that is associated with Australia are non-vegetarian like Fish and Chips and kangaroo meat delicacies. And off course there is Australian beer & wine. I didn't get a chance to try Australia's pavlovas.

Food sets my mood and I have enjoyed eating in Australia. Melbourne will remain in my memory as a city with mouth watering, wide variety of food.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Australia - The land down under

Recently I spent a week in Melbourne city - World's most liveable city.



I have always wanted to visit Australia. Firstly because its closer to Singapore and affordable to travel on budget. Second, Singaporeans have a fascination towards Australia and being in Singapore I have heard so many stories about Australia. Australia is a famous destination for budget travelers, students who couldn't get into American universities for further education and for those who want to explore Australia on a work visa. Third, I hadn't been to southern part of hemisphere and Australia is the land down under.

I wasn't disappointed a bit. Melbourne is multicultural and diverse city.  Off course my comparison is with Singapore which is every bit glossy and glamorous. In contrast Melbourne has a rustic, small town charm to it. Melbourne is a very young city which had its first settlement in 1803 by a group of victorian sailors. The city has huge victorian era buildings that gives it a feel of London. Melbourne of today has Victorian era gothic structures and modern sky scrapers side by side.







The city itself is very small but energetic; bustling with people who are very laid back and chilled out "Don't worry maite". Australians know how to slow down and enjoy their lives. They have a relaxed working hours, almost no one works long hours. Evenings are for beer and trust me, people really get drunk. Australians love their coffee and are sports fanatics. Greeks followed by Italian and Chinese form the majority of Melbourne population. Greek, Italian and south east asian cuisine is readily available in Australia. You could even find Indian ready-to-eat food in supermarkets. Australians come across as very direct and straightforward people. Asians of all people, are definitely taken aback by this straight forwardness.

Australia is very easy to travel by budget. There are enormous choices for budget hostels with bars specifically for backpackers. Cost of living is high in Australia but rentals and accommodation is not so expensive. Australia has an option of "working holiday" visas that lets you have temporary jobs to sustain and fund your travels. Labour costs are high in Australia so by working even as a waiter or cleaner you could survive, save and travel within Australia.

I am surprised how is Melbourne the "most liveable" city because of two reasons.
First safety concerns. While in Australia we were advised not to venture out after dark. If you encounter muggers or drunkards, its better to leave everything you have and just run.
Second reason is the weather. Summer and winter weather is too extreme. This is winter time in Australia. Temperature was allright, around 8degrees but the wind was too rough.

Most liveable city or not, it is a very interesting city. I would have loved to stay longer if not for my life and job back in Singapore.
Couple of more Oz posts coming up, watch out this space.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Why Asian women definitely can't have it all?

Social Media and Internet is abuzz with discussions after the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg called to reboot feminism with her new book Lean In - Women, Work and the Will to Lead.

Based on one of the article - Why women can't have it all, my personal opinion is that an average Asian Women*, across all economic barriers and all sections of the society, definitely cannot have it all. Here are 10 reasons for that.

1. Asian society is inherently patriarchal.
    Men are breadwinners and Women are caregivers.

2. Most Asian societies prefer a male over a female child.  
    Family tree is traced by the male members of the family.

3. Education is unequal. 
    My father didn't have the money to give equal education to all of us, only boys went to good schools.

4. Marriages are unequal. 
    I want marry a girl who is less ambitious.

5. Women are expected to be selfless and maternal with kids on top of their priority list.
     I don't have any problems with my fiance working till we have a baby.

6. Women are groomed to backup men and not compete with them.
    Why do you want to study so much? What more do girls these days want?

7. Men (and Women) do and say sexist things, without even realizing it.
    What is the need for her to work when her husband has such a high profile job. She can quit and stay at home to look after her kids.

8. It's an uphill struggle for women who wants to have it all.
    You girls do not go with the flow by fighting against the system. You are the rebellious generation.

9. Being gentle and mellow are more likeable attributes in women.
    Women who appear competent are often perceived as less likeable. Men don't face this. - Deborah Gruenfeld, Professor of Leadership & Organizational Behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business

10. Most women don't even dream big because they are told "women can't have it all". 
    The word “ambition” for women is a troublesome one in Asia, often equated with evil and greed. - Jane Horan, the founder a diversity workplace advisory organisation, Singapore.

Disclaimer:
*My opinion is based on my experience working with many Asians and my travels to South, East and South-East Asian countries. I have no personal experience of other parts of Asia, so this generalization does not apply to North and west Asia.

Monday, 8 April 2013

10 things to do on a rainy weekend

1. Sleep in and wake up late in the morning. Bed coffee is a great idea.
2. Take a slow hot shower.
3. Settle down near the window with a great book/music.
4. Have a warm bowl of noodle soup for lunch.
5. Rainy weather is a great sleep inducer. Be lazy and take an afternoon nap.
6. Prepare a fried spicy snack for evening coffee time - potato wedges, Indian chats or chips with spicy-tangy salsa.
7. Watch a good movie at coffee time. Enjoy the snacks and some popcorn.
8. Go for a walk/jog in rain (with or without umbrella).
9. Order home your favourite dinner (if you are still hungry).
10. Involve family/friends for a game session late into the night.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Life stands still

The joy of camping has to be experienced. 
Getting back to the basics
the heat, the sweat, the cool breeze of midnight;
huddling inside the tent when its pouring outside
walking on the beach in the death of night; 
sleeping to the sounds of darkness
insects screeching, leaves rustling, wind howling;
therapeutic sounds of water lashing at the shore;
waking up to the raising sun on water;
sand, castles and bubbles;
chirping birds, flying kites, giggling kids;
this is where life comes to stand still ... 
or so you wish ..
The ecstasy of camping has to be experienced. 


Friday, 29 March 2013

Confessions of a love affair

My friends at office introduced me to him. I was skeptical of meeting him, but they insisted. They told me that he was charming and irresistible - a dangerous combination. I laughed at them. They smiled at each other, a know-it-all smile.

I didn't know what I was getting into. It initially was just a tea time meeting, he would come with my friends. If he joined us for lunch it would be a longer rendezvous. He was silently charming. I would return fresh and delighted after meeting him. He had me now. Soon, I found myself waiting for our lunch time meetings. I had a longing to meet him. I would blush and giggle like a small girl in his company. 

As days passed I became restless. I wanted more of him. Meeting him just at lunch time was not enough. I wanted him all for myself. I wanted his undivided attention. I talked to my friends about him. They were surprised that in-spite of being a mother, I am doing this. They asked me if I have told my husband about it. I didn't want to answer that question. They warned me that it would be difficult to hide him in this era of social media. But I didn't care.

I began spending more time alone with him. I would meet him in between work, in break time, in free time. I would think about him all the time - in meetings, at home, while sleeping and eating. Sometimes I even ignored my daughter.

Then I crossed the line. I went to bed with him. 

After this I started feeling miserable. My shoulders and back suffered, my whole body ached. I wanted to stay away from him, but it became more and more difficult to keep him away. I devised plans to avoid him. I ignored him, thrashed him and abused him. He wouldn't give up. I had decided. I had to get rid of him to maintain my sanity. 

And today I finally did it. 

I deleted him from my iPhone. I had a great affair with Candy crush saga, but I have to move on.

Until I fall in love again, with someone else.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Find the Balance

Originally posted on Parentous.


Have you thought about how some people achieve more things in 24hours of a day than you, how some people cruise through life without cribbing, how some people are happy even without doing much in 24 hours? The common answer I get, silly albeit, is that the person is either unmarried or doesn’t have kids. For such I say, grow up.

Ever since I became pregnant, I had decided that I would not use my kid as an excuse to crib or slack. I took a break from every other aspect of my life when my daughter was born. I wanted to take it slow, but not forever. I had decided that being a mom would not be my sole identity. I wanted to do a lot with my 24 hours. I knew such a life was going to be stressful.

The researcher in me awoke - searching the net and real life for inspirations. I know women who are really ambitious, travel extensively, study after having a kid, leave kids with parents and work in another city. On the other end, I have seen women who dedicate themselves to child rearing and home making completely with satisfaction. I admire those women who smile and live by their decision confidently.

The story of my life currently is this. My daughter is now 4 years old, more demanding than ever. I have a full time job, I exercise, I blog, I read (my target is usually 20-25 books per year, that is roughly 2 books every month). I spend a lot of time with friends. I indulge in simple me-time like shopping or a massage. Adding to the chaos, we have a pet dog. There is another person who gets a major slice of my time – not to forget my dear, loving husband, who becomes a child as soon as our daughter gets sick.

Yes, I have more mature lines on my face now. Yes, I have become thinner and look less attractive than 5 years ago. But I am happy and that is the key.

These are the tips that I would give to find the balance in life. 

Have a support system: 
“Behind every successful woman, there is another woman - her domestic help”

Have someone to fall back to – family, friends or hired help. You need a break once in a while. Besides, doing everything by yourself is the sure-fire way to get frustrated and look 50 at 30. Hire a part-time domestic help or a nanny. Know what to give up and when. If you decide to pursue other activities, send your kids to playschool, as soon as you can. I sent mine at 18 months - for couple of hours. You both learn to give each other some space early on. Your kid will get sick more often. This only helps them in building immunity early on. They fall sick even when you put them to school at 4 years. 


Get your priorities right: 
If you think you can do it all by yourself, you must be kidding! You are not a super woman. You can't possibly go to work, cook three meals a day, have a spotless house, not send your kid to playschool/daycare and have a good night’s sleep – all in one life. Make a choice and stick to it – go to work or stay at home. Accept the side-effects of the decision. Whenever you get those infamous guilt attacks, remind yourself of your priorities.


Don’t blame your husband: 
I have observed this in many Indian families. Indian husbands are breadwinners and that’s what they do best. Most of the men "help" mothers in child rearing but they play secondary roles, as backup. The sooner you accept this, the better it is for you. Our husbands are a lot better than our fathers. We can leave the kids with them behind for the evening and go on a ladies night out. But it is still far for Indian men to take 2-3 kids alone to the zoo/water park, all by themselves. I have not seen such an Indian man, so far!

If it is of any solace, this generalization can be extended to all Asian families. Asian women are the primary care givers of their offspring. 

Simplify your life: 
You knew this was coming, didn’t you? If you have something to crib about, that needs to be sorted out. You have to find tips to manage that aspect. God helps those who help themselves. Be it morning madness, bedtime struggles, irritating co-worker, idle mind or boredom. Find ways to be happy and productive. Find a hobby, learn a new activity and give space to each other in every relationship.

I remember reading this somewhere: "The busy man is never wise and the wise man is never busy

Don’t be too busy to take part in the important things in your life. Take time to slow down without being stagnant. 

Care to share your tips to find the right balance?

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Cakes and bakes

I have been interested in baking for quite some time now. But it's only recently that I revived my inner baking goddess. This post was triggered by a recent success story. I made a cake for a small birthday party of twenty guests. If this is any indication of how good it was, everyone, all six ladies, wanted to take home the small remaining portion of cake that was left after party.

One of the easiest cake to bake are tea time cakes, also called fruit cakes. I suggest any beginner to start with this type. I also like these cakes because they can be eaten on their own and do not ask for a layer of icing, ganache or creamy cheese. 

One such favorite tea time cake in our household is carrot cake. They are no way close to being healthy other than the carrot part of it. It is loaded with a generous dose of sugar and baking soda, but they are the tastiest of all tea cakes. 

Here is the version of the recipe that I tried: (from allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:
2 eggs
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all purpose flour
1 spoon baking soda
1 spoon baking powder
1/4 tspn salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1.5 cups grated carrots
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Procedure:
- Whip together eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla extract.
- In another bowl, mix together the dry ingredients - flour, baking soda, baking poweder, cinnamon and salt. Add this flour mixture to the egg mixture and beat till all the ingredients are mixed well.
- Stir in carrot and the walnuts, finally.
- Pour this mixture into a greased pan.
- Bake this in a preheated oven at 175-180C for roughly 45 minutes.

While baking, the kitchen fills with the caramelizing fragrance of carrot mixed with vanilla and cinnamon, making you impatient to taste the goodness. The soft, moist, grainy textured, freshly baked carrot cake with a hint of cinnamon aroma is a real treat.
====================

By trial and error, these are the few tips I use for baking:
- Bring all the ingredients to room temperature before preparing the batter. Watch out for egg and butter(if recipe calls for it) temperature.
- Use exact measurements of ingredients as specified in the recipe. Invest in a good measuring cup and spoon. Some recipes are stated in grams. A weighing scale would be perfect for such recipes. Follow the recipe exactly for a better cake.
- Preheating the oven to the said temperature is the key for baking success. My oven has a light indicator that switches off when the oven reaches required temperature.
- Grease the cake pan with butter and coat with flour. This prevents the cake from sticking to the bottom and sides of the pan.
- Fill the unused molds of a cupcake pan with water before baking. This helps in even baking.
- Position your rack properly. If a high rack is used for backing it might burn the top of the cake.
- Do not over bake. A toothpick test is generally useful - a toothpick inserted at the center of the cake must come clean. Also around the specified timing in recipe, the cake begins to pull off from the edges, top layer is evenly browned and lightly sprigs back when pressed at the center.
- Give sufficient time for cooling before cutting the cake.

Now, I only wish I had taken snaps of the finished carrot cakes.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

of Tirupathi and Bangalore

We are back from a short but eventful and hectic trip to India. It was just a visit to spend time with my husband's and my family. I was in Bangalore the whole time but managed to squeeze a trip to Tirupathi in Andhra Pradesh.

Trip to Tirupathi was an experience in itself. Tirupathi is a very famous and one of the richest pilgrimages of India. It is also one of the most visited temples. Devotees throng to the temple from every corner of India and Indians staying abroad. We decided to pay respects to Lord Venkateshwara this time. I had an experience of the temple and its crowd once before this. I knew what to expect. The queues to see the god even after buying a hefty priced ticket is a minimum 4 hours wait. The free entry wait time is easily 8-10 hours.All this for a blink-and-miss split second slot to see the lord!

I was amazed at the efficiency of the system in place to control the crowd. Waiting people were broken into different queues to avoid stampede but mainly to control the flow of people to the main temple. There were people who used the waiting areas as toilets (highly insenitive bunch). In spite of that and huge crowd round the clock, cleanliness in temple premises and waiting area was very impressive. Even though there was no personal boundary while in the queue and you were walking sticking to the person in front of you and behind, no one misbehaves. Majority of the crowd waits patiently for their turn resigned to the fact that there was no use pulling/pushing.

On the other end, Informants and monitors of queue were impatient and non-courteous. Corruption such as bribing is heavily practiced. One can't find a single item for fixed price on the Tirumala hills, not even hotel accomodation or sweet laddu offering to God. Even priests ask for money in return for extra prasad.

Temples are supposed to be peaceful places to pray and meditate. One can't even see the main idol for more than a second, then why go there to pray? One can't sit in temple premises for more than a minute, what purpose does this serve? Does one go there to find out why so many people throng to the temple? I didn't understand. If you go there to use the temple premises as urinals, bribe to get an extra laddu or get pushed by one of the temple guard like a cow in a herd, what is the point?

To my dismay, I realized that I have lost the street-smartness required to manoeuvre on Indian roads - be it crossing a busy road skillfully, bargaining with street vendors or communicating with auto wallahs.

There was this one incident that leaves me puzzled even now. I went to a roadside vendor selling few books. I picked up a couple of them and asked for the price. The guy behaved creepy. He looked at me intently quoting 2-3 prices and eventually settled to 140Rs for 2 books. I asked him if he can give me the books for 100Rs. And that's all I spoke. Before I opened my mouth again, the guy was shouting at the top of his voice - " What are you talking? Dont you have any shame? What do you think of these books? These are original books. You are asking for such a low price!" I tried to diffuse the situation "Ok, tell me for how do much you want to sell?". There was no stopping the guy, he was still shouting at the top of his voice that I was a shameless lady who wants to buy things at cheap prices! So I dropped the books and being ill-tempered, I talked back to him "Don't you think I know how original the books are?" "Then why are you buying here?" came the answer. I left that place silently with the guy still shouting and throwing curses at me. Was I over-reacting? Was it normal for him to get defensive thinking that I was going to bargain real hard? Or should I have paid 140Rs silently and gotten the book even after he harassed me like that?

A couple of more days on Indian streets and I would have gotten back to the game(of shouting in frustration and hurling curses to bounce off the ones coming my way), but my skills were rusted and I needed help to get out of a situation.

On a general note, Bangaloreans were very hopeful and happy about the Infrastructure development in Bangalore. People were hopeful about Namma Metro project and development of few new roads and fly overs. Also on the other end, I heard comments about people worrying about slowing economy and IT companies moving away from Bangalore because of lack of infrastructure, population and government policies.

Whatever is the infrastructure, pollution or population, Bangalore has never failed to impress me. Be it in 2004 when I first resided in Bangalore as an intern drawing no salary or now, as an NRI. It remains Namma Bengaluru - the IT capital, the city of opportunities, the city of mouth watering food, the city where my dear ones reside, the city where my heart lies.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Conversation with a free thinker

I was having lunch with a colleague the other day. I was getting to know her better. She mostly dominates every conversation and steers towards the topics she likes and makes it interesting for everyone. She was getting to know me as well. We started with the usual banter - work, followed by kids and then conversation was steered towards our costums, values and beliefs.

She asked me about my religion. Any topic about Indian religion always starts with the many gods we have and the main gods - Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. And it invariably moves to discussing cast-ism in our society and various traditions that dominate a particular caste.

I asked her about her religion. This is how I asked her. "So what are you? A Buddhist or Christian?" Those are the two religions that a Singaporean Chinese belong to. She answered 'none'. I asked her again. She has to be something, to me the thought of not belonging to a religion just didn't exist. She said again "none, I don't have a religion." It took me a while to understand what she was saying. She was saying that she doesn't believe or belong to any religion. She was a free thinker.

To an Indian, she had said something unthinkable. We Indians belong to one or the other religion. We are born to a religion, we do not chose our religion.
Even if an Indian doesn't believe in his religion's traditions and practices, he still belongs to that religion because he is born to parents who follow the religion. Religion forms the foundation of India, its culture and its society. Religion defines who we are, what we can achieve, what is expected from us. It has influence on politics, architecture, cuisine, dressing and thinking. There are religion and caste based reservation policies. Religion is so important in our society that you cannot understand India or Indians without first learning about their religion and its influence.

How can my colleague not belong to any religion? She must automatically belong to a religion her husband follows. She said her husband's family are Buddhists but her husband himself is a free thinker. So don't they believe in God? She says no, she says that there are things that are beyond her control in this universe, but that is science, not God. How are values inculcated in them? As kids, we were told stories of God, that he is the supreme being. The fear of god, the notion of hell and heaven teaches us what is right and wrong. She says, while growing up, they were told that they are supposed to follow certain things because their parents said so. Their parents are experienced and they know better; they were the guardians, so the kids listened to their parents. They learnt values for the greater good of society and not for the fear of God or religious practices. She clarified that she or her family is not against any religion or its practices, its just they do not follow any one religion. They are free to learn from all religions and pick and practice what they like from each religion.

Whats the role of the society in their lives? Racial harmony is one of the fundamental value of Singaporean government. All the religions co-exist in this country peacefully. Each religious group observes their traditions and government supports and encourages it. Schools and offices celebrate all the major festivals of religions here without bias. In-fact, being a free thinker is a religion in itself in this country. All official documents accept free-thinkers as a religion. There is no religious bias.

My colleague is a very warm person. She is an extremely friendly girl who is liked by almost everyone. She makes anyone welcome in the group. She can make witty conversations. She is a super-mom. She is very well balanced emotionally and is seen to be calm even in stressful times. She is a go-getter. Free-thinking or not being bound to a religion obviously hasn't done her any harm!

That conversation with her left me debating within myself. Free thinking is accepting the values of others and extending friendship by respecting their religion. And since the society doesn't need you to belong to a religion you call yourself a free thinker. This is same as being in a religion, because your society wants you to and respecting & adopting values from other religions. There are many Hindus who bring home a Christmas tree or cut a cake on New Year. Isn't this free thinking? Or is this just religious harmony?

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Mission packing

I am packing bags again, to go on a short trip to my home country. 

Packing is not tough for me, I make lists. I usually don't forget anything important. I have 2 big suitcases in which I can dump 20Kgs. Previously, I did just that. I used to dump everything into those 20KG bags. I stuffed the suitcase with everyone's clothing, gifts, food items, toiletries and literally everything that is in my list. 

This kind of packing was so messy. I could hardly find anything in that big suitcase. I had to search endlessly for every simple thing. There was another problem - repacking. When I go back to my home country I travel to other cities and have to re-pack a lot of times. I would unload a lot of things from my big suitcase(like gifts, food items etc) and I ended up repacking every time. I would not have the right luggage size or the time and patience needed to re-pack. Also my husband and I usually split up to travel to different places and this needed repacking again! I need order with my things, even if it is in the form of organized mess. So I ended up by being stressed about packing and re-packing. It was about time I felt that this process needed some thought and organization.
 
This is how I am tackling it this time. As usual, I have made a list of all the things that I would need. I made the list as exhaustive as possible. And then I eliminated as below:

Carry only those items that you really need:
This sounds like common sense. But previously, I carried too many things 'just in case I needed'. I ended up bringing back most of those things untouched. Accessories were one such thing. This time, I am carrying only those accessories I would use for the dresses I have packed. Good-to-have, just-in-case items were ticked out of the list. I also tend to wear traditional wear back home. Western wear could be cut down to bare minimum. So I chopped off a significant portion of my wardrobe from the packing list.

Toiletries:
Instead of carrying bulky toiletries, I bought travel sized empty bottles for my toiletries and filled those up with the things that I need. This reduced my baggage size and space significantly. 

Buy things at destination:
If there are things that might be needed, see if it can be purchased at destination. If so, tick it out of the list. Items like my daughter's snacks, specific food items, toys, just-in-case diapers, our extra footwear were all ticked out of the list.

Layer and wear bulky items while flying:
Airport and airplane cabin temperature is pretty cold. I have decided to wear bulky items like Jeans, Jackets, scarfs, caps and shoes. I also carry books by hand which forms a significant portion in my luggage.

Organize the luggage:
Since there is lot of repacking required, I decided to break up my luggage into multiple small bags. All the toiletries and makeup in one bag, all our clothing separately in individual bags per person. I will stack these small bags into the big suitcase along with items that will have to be unloaded at destination(gifts, food items). This way, I will not have to repack our individual bags. We can even pick our own bags and split up and travel around without the need for repacking. Bonus, I know exactly what bag to look into for my item.

All these sounds so simple that it makes me think why didn't I do these before. Oh well, experience teaches you a lot! Hopefully, next time I wont be paying hefty price for luggage space in airfare.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

What's your look?

"Short plump girl"
"That short, dark girl with specs"
"That short girl with messy curls"
These are some of the ways I have been referred to as. These are what forms my external appearance. 

We have specific physical characteristics that makes us look the way we do. It could be long hair, broad face, tall/short in height, our build - petite, slim or curvy, and other accessories like specs or jewelery. It could even be our birth marks - a big mole under lip, birth mark on cheeks and so on. These are what makes our external appearance. What if these external traits become our unique identity, like our personal postal code?

We are not happy with all of our physical characteristics. No one is happy with the way they look, it is just that one learns to accept it. We always wish for that physical trait of ours to change. We wish for a generous couple of inches of height, a more curvier shape or thinner structure, beautiful hair, fairer or darker skin color or something else. What if that aspect of yours, that you hate much, becomes your identity? Like you are always referred to as "the short, fat girl", "the girl with long messy hair", "the guy with a mark on his chin", "that old lady who limps" and so on.

This reference creates negativity in your mind subconsciously. Even though you have come to accept the trait, you will remember the person who made that remark. The person might have involuntarily made that casual remark based on the impression he has formed of you. But that person becomes 'the one who called you short'. Your mind forms hostility towards that person and chances of any friendlier relationship becomes remote. 

There are many positive physical attributes of a person that is not hurtful or derogatory. These physical traits can be an alternative to a compliment. Like "the girl who has a smiling face", "the one who has luscious hair", "the guy who looks like Brad Pitt" and so on. Another way to identify a person is by indicating something that he is good at. "The one who sings well", "the one who dances well", "the one who paints well".

If you do not personally know someone, you can still identify/refer to him by his positive physical traits. If its an office setting, you could identify someone based on what and with whom he works. If its a family setting, it could be based on the relationship.

It takes very little effort to be a bit more sensitive towards others. It takes you a long way by not being mean or hurtful, even unintentionally. By making a mental note of a positive physical trait or achievement of every person you meet or interact, even subconsciously, you will not be making rude remarks about the person.

"If you cant speak good about someone, don't speak at all!!"
- Anonymous wise person

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Spine Poetry - 2

The God of small things, The lord of the rings,
Deliver us from Evil!

Looking in the modern century,
A princess remembers the great Indian novel - The tragic story for partition.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Chocolate Souffle

My first attempt at fiction ... I welcome feedback .
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Slowly, she moved to the dark kitchen and stood aimlessly thinking what she wanted to do. Her mind was preoccupied. She searched her busy mind for the purpose. She moved her hands on the cool kitchen top which had been wiped clean. She reached for the light switch at the end of the kitchen counter. There was abundant natural sunlight inside the house. All the rooms of the house had big windows, so the house didn't need electric lights in the morning. But it was the opposite in the kitchen, the lone dark spot of the house. Once her eyes adjusted to yellowish light, it fell on the butter at the corner of the stove. Yes! She had wanted to bake a cake.

She scooped four tablespoons of butter into microwave bowl. She added 3/4th cup of semi sweet chocolate with butter. She put this into the microwave to melt and set 40 seconds on timer. They both had not been talking since yesterday. In-spite of this, he had bought all the ingredients for cake. He knew she couldn't bake cake alone. She needed help to crack open the egg. Besides, they had always baked cakes together. The microwave beep brought her back into action. He was roaming outside in the living room as if he was waiting for an invitation to come in to join her. And she needed him. "Would you crack these eggs for me?". He quickly washed his hands and joined her in the kitchen. He wiped his hands using the towel on his shoulders. A towel on his shoulder was something that she found very cute about him.

He separated 4 egg whites from egg yolks. He set on the electric mixer to whisk egg whites. They spoke nothing else, still holding onto their silence. She added 2/3rd cup caster sugar and a spoon of vanilla essence to the egg yolks. She whisked it for a couple of minutes until sugar is well blended with eggs. To this she added chocolate and butter mixture.

They had always baked cakes together. He would eagerly sit in front of oven and watch how the cake raises and browns on the top. She set the oven temperature to 220c and switched it on to preheat. He stood by and watched her delicately fold the egg white into the chocolate mixture. Using a large spatula she cut a path down the middle of the mixture with the edge of the spatula. She then gently turned half of the mixture over to the other half. She continued folding this way without stirring so as to retain the air that is in the beaten whites.

She drifted off again, to yesterday's incident. Something he did irked her very much that she had snapped at him. In retrospect it had been for a very silly reason, but she was not yet ready to talk for the fear that she might say something rude to him. During a fight he always fell silent, he never spoke rudely. But she always spoke her mind even when she was angry. That made matters worse and she had learned over years to hold back when angry. She didn't want it to turn into an ugly war of words. Its better to be silent and sleep over it for a couple of days. 

"I think its done" he said. He was right. The egg white meringue was thoroughly folded into chocolate batter. Together they scooped the batter into muffin molds. He slid the muffin mold into hot oven and stood watching in front of the oven, like he always does. He watched as the souffle raised. They both were comfortable with the silence. She got busy cleaning up the kitchen top, putting away dishes to wash. The smell of chocolate baking in the oven filled the kitchen. It was nostalgic. He began washing up the dishes. Both were lost in the noise - of buzzing oven, of clanking dishes, of running tap water and of their own thoughts.

They let souffle bake for 10-12 minutes till the top settled and browned a bit. Once out, they both dug in while souffle was still hot. He commented on how each souffle has turned out and she commented on what could be better next time. Together they ate their favourite dessert in the same cup. The fight was all forgotten, at-least, till there was chocolate in the cup.