Tuesday 29 December 2009

Mysterious black bra

My girlfriends are funny. My mailbox has been filled with emails discussing about the mystery bra.

You see, four of us went to Hanoi together and stayed at ML's serviced apartment. After we left, ML flew off to Hong Kong to celebrate Christmas with her family. When she returned to Hanoi, she was puzzled to find a black bra in her bedroom. That's when things got exciting.

Her imagination went wild. Maybe someone came in and 'used' her bed while she was gone? It's a serviced apartment afterall, the housekeepers come in to tidy up the place everyday.

Fearing that her security had been breached, she was on the verge of calling front office when she suddenly remembered our visit. Surely one of us must have left it behind.

When I received her email, I told her the La Senza bra isn't mine. I don't remember having one like that. Funny it doesn't belong to my friends too.

It was weird. Everyone had different theories about how it may have ended up in her room. Maybe it belongs to her other friend who came to visit after we left? Or perhaps someone really had a secret rendevous in her absence?

ML was quick to confirm that she had never seen any La Senza shop in Vietnam, so it is unlikely to belong to a local.

The more we discussed, the more mysterious it got. Finally I suggested that she take a photo before we make any more speculations.

When the photo arrived the next morning, I had to shamefully admit that it is indeed mine. I had forgotten all about that La Senza bra. No wonder I haven't seen it lately.

ML was so happy that the bra and owner will be reunited soon. We're meeting up early next year when she returns to Singapore. Of course, she's happier that the mystery is solved. Now she can sleep peacefully again knowing that nobody was bouncing on her bed while she was gone!

I don't really miss the bra but I'm just sorry for the panic caused.

Monday 28 December 2009

Counting down

Don't laugh. But I dreamt of Barrack Obama last night. He was visiting my family and we were seated around a table in the garden, chatting like old friends. The atmosphere was relaxed, like he was on a holiday and no bodyguards were present. It was a nice dream.

Don't ask me how these dreams come about. Things I read about reappear as dreams at night. I must have read about Obama's Hawaiian vacation lately.

Anyway, back to the real world. This has been a turbulent year for business. The maritime industry had never experienced a year quite like this, so we've braced ourselves for an unspectacular financial year. As expected, we didn't do as well as last year, or the year before. Maybe even the one before that.... There's nothing we can do about it but at least we can hope for a better year ahead.

That said, we launched two new products this year amidst the recession. The results have been pretty encouraging and we hope to see more gardening kits and stickers flying off the shelves next year.

I must say this has been a fulfilling year marked by many happy events. I visited Shanghai, Hanoi and Phuket, so my wanderlust has been satisfied for now. I've attended two weddings and there's one more to go before the year ends. I've lost count of how much food I have gobbled down at so many parties but I can only count one running event I went to. It's not a marathon or half marathon, but a 4km run to raise funds for cancer research. It was for a good cause...

Well, the other race I signed up for, RustiRun for dogs and dog lovers, has been postponed to early next year. So yah, I did a grand total of one race this year.

Of course this year we were all devastated to hear about Rusty's eye condition. The good news is, he's coping well with one good eye but we must always stay vigilant. He's only six with many more years ahead, we can't afford to let anything happen to his good eye. As the kids always say, Rusty is the best thing that has ever happened to our family.

So, we've almost come to the end of the year. The kids will begin a new school term in a matter of days. I hope next year will be better for you, me and Rusty too.

Sunday 27 December 2009

Holiday aftermath

My sunburnt skin is peeling and flaking like nobody's business, it ain't a pretty sight. If only I weren't so careless during the boating trip. Then again, I blame it on the choppy sea. I tend to forget that I am prone to seasickness until I'm out at sea. The smell of diesel makes my stomach churn, then there's no turning back. Those who don't suffer from motion sickness will never understand how suffering it is.

Look in the horizon. Lie down. Sit outside. Think positive thoughts... I've heard them all. But when the head is spinning and you're throwing up your breakfast, nothing really matters. So, for hours, I laid on the deck, too sick to care about the burning sun or sea water splashing on me. Needless to say, the aftermath isn't pretty. It will take months for the skin to repair and look normal again.

Still I am thankful we didn't get any sandfly bites this time. These tiny flies love lurking on the beaches and their sting can haunt you long after your vacation is over. One time, I returned home after a beach holiday with 50 bites all over my body. Not only did I look hideous for weeks, the incredible itch kept me awake at night. While I remember the pristine white beaches, I'm afraid I remember the sandflies more.

What can be worse than sunburn or insect bites? Chapped lips and scaly skin. Traveling to temperate places has its perils too. Just one week in a cold, dry place will turn me into a scaly lizard regardless of how much lotion I slap on. I'll itch and scratch like a monkey for months, and swear I will not visit cold wintry places ever again.

But as soon as my skin regains its lustre again, I will forget about the motion-sickness, peeling lips or sandfly bites. I'll be ready for my next vacation to anywhere. Doesn't matter where...

Friday 25 December 2009

A party a day

Finally, I've finished putting all the holiday baggage away and caught up with the washing and cleaning. Life is back to normal now. Rusty lost a bit of weight after a week at the boarding house while I must have gained some because the eating continues even after the vacation.

Christmas eve was spent chilling out at a friend's new home. We kept drinking Sangria like there's no tomorrow. It had something to do with the extra spicy chili sin carne Patricia made. You must have guessed the theme for the night. Yes Spanish!

Then Christmas Day was spent at best friend's house. I was the bartender for the night. I made cups after cups of Mojito, the traditional cocktail of Cuba. Indeed, the refreshing drink was perfect for a BBQ party.

The eating will continue tonight at my parent's place. I look forward to the gathering as I haven't seen my brothers for two weeks already.

Oh, Best Friend got me a blender for Christmas. She says it is for me to start a healthy breakfast routine like her. She drinks a concoction of celery, green apple and cucumber every morning. It sounds healthy but I'm sure it will take me a long while to get used to the taste.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Paradise island

I woke up to a rainy morning. The sun is hidden behind a thick layer of clouds; looks like it'll stay that way all day. But what is a little bit of rain compared to the blizzards sweeping across Europe and USA?

No wonder hordes of tourists flock to Phuket to escape the cold. The hotel rates shot up on the day we left the island but still, tourists are willing to pay skyhigh prices for a piece of tropical paradise.

Indeed the best time to visit Phuket is during the cool NE monsoon season, from November through March when it isn't so humid, and the cool breezes keep things comfortable.

In fact, we were blessed with such good weather that I ended up sunburnt after a boating trip.

Sunworshippers travel across the world to bask in the heat all day. Then they end up at Prom Thep Cape, the southern-most point of Phuket, to watch the sun dip into the Andaman Sea. The sunset here is stunning!

Having good weather also means that we could spend more time outdoors.

Splashing about in the pool.

Hiking in a nature reserve.

Some of the popular activities to do in Phuket are scuba diving and snorkeling. We took a 1.5-hour ferry ride to Phi Phi Island where we stayed for two nights to enjoy the idyllic island life.

Phi Phi jetty.

Fishes at the jetty.

Taking a longtail boat to our resort.


A popular diving site.

Best friend 's family returning from a dive.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Where we stayed

When I first visited Phuket some 20 years ago, it was already a popular tourist destination. The Patong Beach area where we stayed was lined with sun-loving caucasians sprawled on the beach chairs.

Blessed with magnificent coves and bays, powdery, palm-fringed white beaches, sparkling island-dotted seas, it is no surprise that tourism is Phuket's top earner. In fact, it the wealthiest province in Thailand today. There were no signs of devastation caused by the Tsunami 5 years ago. Instead, everywhere we went, we saw new hotels and luxury villas being built.

For our family vacation this time round, we took great pains to avoid the crowded beach areas. While I don't mind roughing it out when I'm traveling on my own, it's different when we travel with kids. After scouting around, we found a villa at the Outrigger Laguna Beach Resort.

The 4-bedroom villa with a private pool suited us to a tee. All eight of us could stay together under one roof without breaking the bank.

While the four boys spent their days frolicking in the pool, the adults bonded over food and wine. Best friend and I had loads of fun cooking in the well equipped kitchen. It was like a dream home!

View from our main door.

Beautiful sunset at Laguna.

After three nights in the beautiful villa, we took a ferry to Phi Phi Island where we stayed at The Long Beach for 2 nights.

While our hilltop bungalows offered spectacular views of the sea, there weren't much to do in the secluded area unless we took a longtail boat out to Phi Phi Town.

We checked out early and went back to Phuket Island to spend the rest of our vacation in Allamanda Laguna Resort.

The Laguna resort is a charming area comprising 6 resorts and villas spanning 1000 acres of tropical parkland along an 8km stretch of white sandy beach. It even boasts of a wedding chapel in a romantic setting.

Canal village.

Yum Yum!

While I can live on a very unexciting diet all year round, I become quite the foodie when I travel. To me, savouring local food is a big part of the travel experience.

Now that the kids are older, traveling with them is more enjoyable than before. They have a bigger appetite than the adults so we can go the whole hog when it comes to ordering a wide variety of food.

Naturally, most of our meals in Phuket revolved around Thai dishes. Even when it comes to beverages, we can't seem to have enough of their fresh coconut, coconut milkshake and tropical fruit juice.

Here are some dishes that we ate in various restaurants across Phuket.

Mango salad - raw mango strips garnished with dried shrimps and roasted peanuts. On some days, we had raw papaya salad served in the same way.

Pomelo salad - a refreshing salad made using pomelo, fresh shrimps and fried shallots.

Stir-fried mixed vegetables.

Kale seems to be the most common leafy vegetable in Phuket. It makes an appearance in almost every dish from fried rice to noodles.

Pineapple rice served in a hollowed-out pineapple.

The ubiquitous tom-yum soup served in a steamboat pot.

We had green curry or red curry at every meal. We tried the duck yellow curry for a change but it wasn't that spectacular.

The huge tiger prawns cooked in butter and garlic sauce were lip-smacking good.

The Thais excel in cooking fluffy and soft omelette.

The black pepper mussel omelette on hotplate was delicious.

The chilli crab was very tasty but such a challenge to eat. They shouldn't have cut them into such small pieces.

Vacation is over

Yes, we got back from Phuket late last night. It was a fantastic trip. We spent days soaking in the pool, relaxing in the huge villa, indulging in Thai food and catching the sights.

The moment our plane landed in Singapore, we know we're back to the real world. Today flew by with so many things to do. Our apartment smelled musty, so I gave it a good mop. Pile after pile of laundry were loaded into the washer. I haven't finished unpacking the bags.

One of the first things I did was to bring dear Rusty back from the boarding home. I managed to squeeze in some last minute Christmas shopping after work and even found time to visit mum.

Christmas is just days away and soon the new school term will begin. I must blog about the wonderful vacation before the holiday season is over.

Sunday 13 December 2009

More parties

Last night's popiah party was low-key but loads of fun. We kept rolling popiahs and eating one after another. It's easy to lose count when you're busy chatting and shoving them into the mouth. Thank goodness popiahs are healthy. They're stuffed with vegetables afterall.

In between bites, Best Friend enthusiastically invited us over for a Christmas BBQ after our trip. Will she be just as enthusiastic after traveling with us for an entire week?

I'm glad she's a great party planner because I get invited to all her parties. When it comes to throwing parties, I fail miserably. I just don't take the initiative to organise but I'll be happy to cook and bring food.

While mulling over this, Bev sent an invite for a New Year Eve BBQ party. Yay! Another party to attend.

Saturday 12 December 2009

Lunch treats

I'm a lucky girl indeed. Fry treated me to lunch on Friday, my brother treated us to lunch on Saturday. CH's brother is treating us to popiah lunch today which I had declined because I have so much to do at home. Best friend is also treating us to popiah dinner tonight. This one I'm going because we could do some last minute itinerary planning for the coming trip.

Lunch with Fry was at Yogi House which serves organic food. It's a first for me and the sesame noodle salad completely bowled me over. I had never tasted such fresh and crispy vegetables tossed in a fragrant sesame dressing before. The cold noodles dish was light and refreshing on a scorching hot day. More importantly it left me feeling rejuvenated instead of lethargic after a starchy meal. I know I'll be back there soon to try the other healthy dishes. Thanks Fry!

Yesterday's buffet lunch was at the hip eatery called The Line at Shangri-La Hotel, famous for the international cuisine featured over 16 culinary stations. The selection of food was a little overwhelming at first, so much so that I settled for a bowl of humble rojak while others were making a beeline for the sashimi and fresh oysters.

The rojak was a good appetizer. The liberal use of crunchy apples, turnips and other fruits nicely coated in a sweet tangy sauce really opened up my taste buds. Soon I was making my rounds, picking morsels of food that called out to me. The honey baked ham was so juicy and succulent, it was worth every calorie. The smooth and tender salmon belly sashimi was a hot favourite amongst the adults at our table. Everyone gave the roast beef a thumbs up as well.

At this age, I find that I can't stomach so much food anymore. I fill up quickly and the food takes a long time to digest. Having said that, I like the spread particularly the exciting creations at the salad bar. The dessert station did not disappoint either. While the little ones were enamoured with the chocolate fountain, I was happy getting my fill of cheesecakes, ice cream and
crème brûlée.

What's more memorable is the few hours with my family. Before I sign off, I must thank my brother for bringing all of us together for an enjoyable lunch on a Saturday.

With CH (above) and the kids (below).

My nephew and 3 lovely nieces.

The little ones always bring the most joy to the gatherings.

My bro and family.

I love this photo of the girls with their mum.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Streets of Hanoi

Hanoi, the northern capital city of Vietnam, has an intriguing past. Boasting more than 1,000 years of history, the city is all at once ancient, French-colonial yet cosmopolitan. Let me take you on a walk through the beautiful city.

Much of Vietnamese history has been defined by the desire to resist Chinese domination while at the same time benefiting from Chinese cultural institutions. One of the most prominent attractions is the Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu), founded in 1070 as a Confucian Temple.

This ancient Confucian sanctuary is now considered one of Hanoi's finest historical sites. The temple is based on Confucius' birthplace at Qufu in the Chinese province of Shandong.

In 1076, Vietnam's first university, the Quốc Tử Giám or Imperial Academy, was established within the temple to educate Vietnam's bureaucrats, nobles, royalty and other members of the elite. Given the extreme difficulty of the doctor laureate tests, few students passed the final examinations.

Our guide showing us names of the laureates that have been carved on stone steles placed on top of stone tortoises.

This statue shows the actual height of a typical Vietnamese soldier 1,000 years ago.

Let's continue our history lesson. The French took control in 1888 and modeled the city's architecture to their tastes, lending an important aesthetic to the city's rich stylistic heritage.

The Presidential Palace of Vietnam, nestled amongst lush greenery in the heart of Hanoi, was built between 1900 and 1906 to house the French Governor-General of Indochina. It was constructed by Auguste Henri Vildieu, the official French architect for Vietnam.

Like most French Colonial architecture, the palace is pointedly European and painted in a regal golden yellow.

When Vietnam achieved independence in 1954, President Ho Chi Minh refused to live in the grand structure for symbolic reasons, although he still received state guests there. He eventually built a traditional Vietnamese stilt house and carp pond on the grounds.

The stilt house where Ho Chi Minh worked from 1958 to 1969.

His meeting area.

His bedroom and dining room.

In Vietnam today, he is regarded by the Communist government with almost god-like status in a nationwide personality cult where he is affectionately refered to Uncle Ho. His image appears on the front of every Vietnamese currency note and his portrait is featured prominently in many public buildings and classrooms.

In fact, his embalmed body is on display in a granite Mausoleum near the Presidential Palace.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is open for several hours in the morning. It was already closed when we got there .

Another attraction is the One Pillar Pagoda, a historic Buddhist temple built by Emperor Lý Thái Tông who ruled from 1028 to 1054. According to the court records, Lý Thái Tông was childless and dreamt that he met the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who handed him a baby son while seated on a lotus flower. Lý Thái Tông then married a peasant girl and she bore him a son. The emperor constructed the temple in gratitude by erecting a pillar in the middle of a lotus pond, similar to the one he saw in the dream.

Don't be too surprised if you can't find it because the One Pillar Pagoda is a small shrine, not a tall pagoda that we were expecting to see.

Even in the throes of modernisation, the city of Hanoi still retains much of an old-fashioned charm, with numerous quaint cafes, lakeside walks and interesting restaurants and shops. Huge mansions line grand boulevards,while lakes and parks dot the city.

The Old Quarter, near Hoan Kiem lake, has the original street layout and architecture of old Hanoi. At the beginning of the 20th century the city consisted of only about 36 streets, most of which are now part of the old quarter. Each street then had merchants and households specialized in a particular trade, such as silk traders, jewellery, etc. Today some of the older trades have given way to art galleries, travel shops and stylish boutiques.

One of our favourite shops is Vietnam Quilts, a non-profit outfit that employs women in rural Vietnam and contributes all their profits to various community development projects such as school scholarships and health education.

We also went ga-ga over the mind boggling array of preserved fruits and nuts at the specialty stores. Needless to say, everyone of us carted away bags of goodies.

If you're spending a weekend in Hanoi, don't forget to visit the bustling night market (near Dong Xuan market) which opens for business every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening. You can find just about anything from garments to bags and accessories amongst the hundreds of stalls lining the street.

St-Joseph cathedral.

The best way to explore Hanoi is on foot but I must warn you about the traffic. For the locals, motorbikes remain the most common way to move around the city. The riders weave about in an utterly choatic manner, you're constantly worrying for your life. Yet, there is system in this madness. I have not witnessed any skirmishes or accidents during the trip.

On the contrary, right after I landed in Singapore, I witnessed 3 accidents on the way home. The cab I was in was also hit by another one behind. Thank goodness it was nothing serious. To think that we have such a good infrastructure and a sophisticated traffic system in place!

In Hanoi, you will find lots of vendors hawking things from their bike like this flower lady.

Before I round up the series on Hanoi, I think everyone should visit Hanoi before it loses its old world charm. It's a city built from lowland and is often called "city of lakes". Here is a shot taken from the apartment where you can see West Lake, the largest lake in Hanoi in the far distance.

I hope you've enjoyed the tour. I know I did. And I even met a doggie friend along the way!

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