day 738 | November 21, 2015 | Tales from Agra

Moonlit Taj Majal
It was the well-known story of undying love which drew me in. Shah Jahan honoring his most favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, with a monument so perfect, Tagore describes it as "the tear-drop on the cheek of time." A love so expressed, that she died while giving birth to their fourteenth child. Documentaries share the monumental effort, design thinking, and resources that went behind this singular mausoleum. 20,000 workers, 1,000 elephants, and nearly 20 years to complete. Whether it be grief, guilt, or madness that drove this art, depends on the story we choose. 

Stories are powerful things. They inspire, inflame, teach, persuade, confuse, lead to deeper understanding. There are many stories in Agra, and sharing here a few I loved. 

We started our adventure in Fatehpur Sikri which was the momentary home of Emperor Akbar, one of the greatest rulers of Mughal India. I enjoyed his liberal, progressive thinking, and the practical statesman he was. Beyond his military successes, he redefined political marriages to be real partnerships rather than acquisitions. Harkha Bai, a Hindu princess, was said to be his first and last love -- and he allowed his relationship with her to influence his thinking and way of governing, and leveraged it to encourage the blending of Mughal with Rajput, Islam and Hinduism. Politically, it can be viewed that he already determined a tension point in his rule were the Rajputs, and Harkha Bai was one of the tools in his arsenal to address the issue. If one were to write a love story about it though, it was her influence that had a synergistic and integrative impact on Mughal India. Again, depends on the story we choose. 

Akbar was succeeded by his son, Jahangir. I didn't find the emperor particularly compelling, but I did fall in love with his twentieth (and most beloved) consort, Nur Jahan. Found out about her when we visited the tomb of I'timad-ud-Daulah, a miniature predecessor (perhaps even precursor) to Taj which she had built in honor of her father. "A strong, charismatic, and well-educated woman who dominated a relatively weak-minded husband, Nur Jahan was the most powerful and influential women at court during a period when the Mughal empire was at the peak of its power and glory. More decisive and proactive than her husband, she is considered by historians to have been the real power behind the throne for more than 15 years." She was granted certain honours and privileges which were never enjoyed by any Mughal Empress before or afterwards in history -- coinage struck in her name, held court independently, wielded the powers of his imperial seal, all by commanding the unwavering personal devotion of her husband. 

People remember the men and their conquests, and women were beautiful things that decorate the palaces, and gave birth to heirs. It was nice to hear a story of a powerful woman who shined despite her context, and broke ceilings in that time. This particular one, is a story I choose.

Clay cups
Abhaneri Stepwell

day 737 | March 17, 2016 | Magical Myanmar

A backpacking trip with my girls, soaking up Yangon and Bagan. I didn't check if a visa was required for Myanmar, and we ended up missing our initial flight because they refused to let us board. This also meant cutting the trip 2 days shorter than intended.

Despite the shortened trip and the mad rush schedule I rejigged, they held up pretty well. As a post-trip ritual, the kids and I talk about what we liked and disliked about the trip. They loved our stay at Ostello Bello in New Bagan, especially the cozy corners for chill-out and conversations. They loved the horse cart ride around Old Bagan, and being fanned by Uncle Min while their mom ran around to take photos. They enjoyed seeing the Pagodas at night through the bus journey. They were gleeful for pooltime, despite stick insects making them scream a few times, and crows stealing their food. And they enjoyed talking to their animal spirits in ShweDagon Pagoda and in Ananda Temple, pausing and praying in every stop where the day of their birth is written. They didn't enjoy walking under the dry dusty heat of Old Bagan. In all honesty, I didn't either, but I loved how they persevered and were willing to negotiate pauses.

It's clear it's not their most favorite trip with me, but I must say it is one of mine with them. They wow-ed me -- the way they responded to travel visa hijinks with reassuring pats and happy energies. The way they endured 10-hour night bus journeys to and from Bagan without complaint, waking up and independently gathering their things so we can find our way to hotels at 5am. The funny observations and the challenging questions we worked on answering together. Using Burmese phrases every chance they could get, and loving the pleasantly surprised energies from folks they met. The way they constantly remind me how magical it is to simply sit in stillness and soulfulness, telling stories and genuinely connecting.

We will come back for motorcycle adventures ("Mommy, how come they are on motorcycles and we are walking?"), for the Hot Air Balloon experience once Red meets minimum age of 8 years old, and for more zen time, discovering the world and each other.

Let the images tell the rest of the story. Had a hard time culling down -- so much goodness.
Excited energy
Filling in her own form! :)

day 736 | July 29, 2016 | Restaurant ANDRE

Octaphilosophy Menu for the day
This restaurant has been on my list for a long while now, even before the Michelin Stars were awarded. So when a friend of mine buzzed that she was flying to Singapore, and specifically focusing on Restaurant Andre, I checked the price list, checked my bank account,  reshuffled by dining budget, and responded with a hearty "YESSSSS!" to weekday lunch.

I felt the pinch in my wallet, but by golly, no regrets. Thoroughly enjoyed the experience, all the little details, and perhaps the extra attentiveness (and extra alcohol) we got because of my companion. One of the best dates ever, for this year, at least. :)

Won't muddle it with words. Let the images and the food tell the story. :) Capturing happy tummy memories to fondly look back on.
Lovely dining area 
Their wine list is a book!!! :) So beautiful

day 734 | February 29, 2016 | Maldives

Go to Maldives as a solo trip, certainly I must have gone crazy, a few friends asserted. Space to breathe and recalibrate, gather stories and inspiration, and take my cues from the reset button in the sky. Life led by twilight and simple hungers.

There was a boy looking for love, a hotelier who’s moved around the world. They say don’t hop into strange people’s cars, but he was so earnest, how could I not. He drove around Hulhumale, retelling stories of love found and lost, and seeking advice on relocating to the Philippines as he’s found a woman he is willing to risk for. Instead of playing local Maldivian songs on the radio, he would play Filipino songs, and ask me what they meant. He would sing along lines he knew. They are all love songs. He had been burned before, an ex-wife who refuses to leave London, an ex-lover who milked him for all he was worth financially. I shared my own misadventures, and he smiled at my jaded storytelling. Follow your heart, he encourages. This love thing, he confesses, is something he will always feel compelled to try again.

She, from Kosovo, has hiked around Nepal, extensively travelled around India, and is asking whether the summit at Kota Kinabalu has been reopened. He, from Netherlands, is a Europhile, talking about ski trips in fancy Swiss resorts, and sailing adventures in the Mediterranean. Plenty of good things to say about Croatia and Coastal Spain. I estimate they are in their sixties. There is an easy camaraderie, and they are clearly together, but there's a separateness to them as well, the disparity in their stories, that I felt I was with two singles. They are a new couple, exploring and learning about each other, both previously married, with grown grandchildren she insists look about my age. 

Dancing under raindrops, with wind and waves as our soundtrack. There was a beautiful young couple, dancing the night away. It was her that caught my eye first, all lithe and tanned and lovely. He couldn’t stop touching her, kissing her neck, his hands glued to her hips, the other sliding up and down her arms. She found ways and means to rub against him, sidle up to him every chance she could get. All smiley and giggly, and diabetes-inducing in their sugar sweet high. Enjoyed their energy, and envied it too. This is the sort of couple you’ll tell off to get a room, but not really, because while they made you ridiculously envious, they also injected a certain energy into the dance floor.

A mature couple, lady on the ground crying in a drunken stupor. She couldn’t pick herself up from the side of the pool, right at the edge of the bar. And her partner, holding hair away from her face, and gently talking to ease her into calm. She looked way heavier than him, and I could see him ponder his options, wanting to carry her away, but knowing they’ll likely both get hurt if he did so. So he talked, and soothed, for what felt like hours, crouched on the ground by the poolside, holding hair and wiping away tears. It must not have been comfortable, cold cement, and vomit, and tears. But he stayed, calm despite her storm. Then, when she was ready, they hobbled together, him supporting her, into the privacy of their room.

"When you wake up... I'll be a story in your head. But that's okay. We're all stories, in the end...just make it a good one, eh? Because it was. It was the best."
- Dr. Who

Beyond observed stories, my personal highlight was struggling against waves and swimming with sharks. Enviously peered at divers below, their tank bubbles floating up beside me, wondering if I’ll ever get to dive again. I didn't have the confidence to dive alone. Sometimes, you let go, and realize only later that untangling takes more time than simply loosening one's fingers.

Centara Ras was beautiful, and from welcome to farewells, a wonderful experience. The only complaint I would have is an all-inclusive package food and alcohol, which didn’t include coconuts! How can coconuts NOT be included? Even paradise has a wrinkle. 

day 733 | February 13, 2016 | AppJamming - A Coding Workshop

I've been curious about First Code Academy's coding (and robotics!) workshops for more than a year now, since I started looking at programming schools for my younger brother. While I was extremely keen on it, it is a substantial time and financial commitment on an already loaded plate.

Next session of AppJamming is on 16 April 2016, Sunday
2 Hour workshop tailored for 9 - 11 year olds (1pm - 3pm)

When I was informed of this opportunity for a 2-hour workshop for kids, I jumped on it. Booked and paid before getting alignment from Roo and Red. Intent was to give both of them a flavor, some familiarity, and explore if they would be willing to commit more to learning code. Roo's already doing 3 sessions of supplementary Mandarin on top of 2 sessions of Ballet on a weekly basis. And we love our lazy hammock and skateboard chill outs. If we wanted things to work out, she needed to be fully committed and onboard.

day 732 | January 1, 2016 | The Simplest of Days

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes, and another year has passed. Still ever thankful for the simplest things, and so lucky that I have two little angels who help reconnect me back to earth, the universe, my inner child, and the grown-up I aspire to be.

Last year has been about re-writing my personal mythology, actively working through fears, and being unashamed of my scars. It's spending time with my dad, his gentle wife, and my half-siblings. It's my mom reconnecting back to a self she has missed, and my younger brother growing up. It's friends who inspire with their choices, their struggles, and their stories, beautiful human beings. It's a conscious uncoupling that overflows with kindness and support despite all. It's adventures and exploration in new and familiar places with sweaty fingers in a firm accepting hold. It's precious time being a kid with the kids, dreaming awake, head in the clouds, barefoot, laughing at the silliest things, face up to soak rain or sunshine, whatever the sky is willing to provide. Nothing fancy, just the simplest of days, regardless of where I am, when play is love.

"And I learned what is obvious to a child.
That life is simply a collection of little lives, 
each lived one day at a time.
That each day should be spent
finding beauty in flowers and poetry and talking to animals.
That a day spent with dreaming and sunsets and refreshing breezes
cannot be bettered.
But most of all,
I learned that life is about sitting on benches
next to ancient creeks
with my hand on her knee
and sometimes, 
on good days,
for falling in love."
- Nicholas Sparks

day 727 | December 7, 2015 | Willing Hearts

All set for volunteer work :)
And we were back again, trying to stick to a family commitment of volunteering with Willing Hearts once a quarter, and continue to get the little ones exposed to a community that gives.

This time around, the volunteer coordinator was not comfortable with letting the kids handle knives. We were too late for the egg cooking, after spending close to half an hour looking for Red's misplaced MRT card. Willing Hearts receives donations from various organizations. Some of these are food donations from grocers, especially some of the products no longer deemed saleable. So we took on the task of sorting potatoes. It sounded simple enough, except when fungi and rotten bits were involved.
Good rules!
Roo and Red struggled with the smell of rotting things, and I was almost worried they would walk out on me. I have a high tolerance for yucky things, and had to admit some of the pieces were truly disgusting. But among the moist, rotten bits, were potatoes which were still good for cooking and eating. And ultimately, that was the job -- to soldier on through the muck to find the gems that could help feed other people.

day 728 | November 25, 2015 | Barefoot College

"Live simply, so that others may simply live." Gandhi

It was the TED Talk that captured my heart and imagination, an inspiration on how I would like to grow as a human being, and how I'd like to raise my girls. Wasn't until closer to the date of our Northern India trip when I realized that Barefoot College in Tilonia, a Gandhi-inspired community, sat right between Pushkar and Jaipur. Was not about to miss the opportunity to see it first-hand, and so thankful that Nandlal, Barefoot College's visitor coordinator welcomed us so readily despite our surprise visit.

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