“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality”

I don’t ever post my artwork here (except for some super old ones that I put up when I first switched over to WordPress), but today seems like one of those days when I should.

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When I think of why I love reading so much, these are a few names that pop into my head – Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Daphne duMaurier, Harper Lee (I dislike the damned lawyer that published that prequel). Right at the top of the list, is Lewis Carroll, the man who told you you could believe six impossible things before breakfast (it’s no coincidence that I also love the number 6). The man who told you that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. And most importantly, the man who told you that it doesn’t matter if you’re bonkers, because the best people usually are.

If you thought he writes “children’s books”, well, you just grew up too soon (and you don’t realize that writing a good children’s book is infinitely harder than writing any adult book ever. Children will tell you if your work is crap, adults lie and often don’t have the imagination to know any better). If you thought he was high, you’re reality is just very different from mine. If you think that nonsense words do not “teach” right, then may the Jabberwock get you by those slithy toves.

I’ve always believed that one must never do something unless one is good at it, and this is someone who reminds me over and over that the bar for what I want to do is pretty darned high. Thank you Mr. Carroll, for setting such a high bar (and maybe someday I’ll make it somewhere close to it). Until then, thank you for also always, always reminding me to keep my muchness alive.

Of Despair, and Hope…

It’s weird how you can see a weird karmic cycle in a single day.

You wake up in the morning, and find out that something ended before it ever began. And then minutes later, you see a smiling face that gives you hope.

You go through half the day in a daze and realize you were upset, but you didn’t even realize it. You start to go into a blue funk. And then minutes later, you watch hope try to crawl.

You spend the entire day texting, trying to help in your own way,  while wondering how you could make this better. And then minutes later, you see pictures of hope from exactly a year ago, before this ever happened.

I am holding onto these little bits of hope.

****

Dear A & N,

I can’t say anything to make this nightmare fade. I wish I could’ve made this right for you, the way you always did for me. I thought dancing was the hardest thing I’d ever do for you, but what a fool I was! I wish things were different, I wish you never had to go through anything like this ever, I wish, I wish, I wish…

I wish so many things, but mostly I wish you the strength you’ll need to get through this. Here’s sending you all the strength I’ve ever built up (I only ever learnt it from you, N), may it add to the immense strength you already have. 

Love always, me.

Dear You…

This one is to my person – I write best when I’m not at my happiest, & I just felt the need to write to you in this way…

Dear You,

We’ve ranted, we’ve judged, and we’ve just talked so damn much.

And yet, I feel like you still feel like all this is your fault, like you did something, or you wished something that should’ve been, away.

Dear You,

I know you may feel like I just say things because I’m your biggest cheerleader, but please know that I say them because I mean them, and I truly believe you’re awesomer than most.

Dear You,

I know everything and everybody around you, is dragging you down and making you feel like you did something wrong. You, most of all.

Dear You,

Believe me when I say, you are awesomer than most, in fact you are the awesomest I know, except one.

Dear You,

Things are hard now, but I believe they will be OK eventually. I believe in Karma, and that good things happen to good people, and you are one of them. And if Karma won’t comply, I will MAKE it comply.

Because, dear you,

You are MY person. And nobody messes with what’s mine. Not Karma, and not anyone else.

Dear You,

You’ll get what you want, even if you’re only 50% sure you’ll be good at it. It takes a village, they say, and we have that village (that “agraharam” like our ancestors said). It has B12, and FB friends, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I know you wouldn’t either.

Dear You,

Continue to make fun of the trials. You’re at your best when you’re sarcastic, and some day we will add this to that little bit of awesomeness that is part-you.

I promise.

Dear You,

Just be the best you, that you are. That’s all you need to be.

<hugs>

Dear You,

We don’t say this much, but, hey, you’re my person, my village, my #1 on speed dial. You’re my village and I’m yours.

I ❤ you.

PS – Can we PUHLEASE work on that book already?

 

 

 

Food Trippin’ through Bangkok

As some people would know, the husband (V), is busy eating his way through the world. He even has a chart a la a second grade Science textbook of the Animal Kingdom that organizes all the species he’s managed to consume thus far. It’s therefore not terribly surprising he wanted to go to Bangkok for his birthday, with the sole objective of adding to this chart. I’ve been to Bangkok before, and done the touristy stuff like the Buddha temples, Ayuthaya, cruising down the Chao Phraya and more. If you’re looking to read about those, this blogpost isn’t it. If you’re interested in knowing about eating your way through the streets of Bangkok (and eating weird food), you should keep reading. For those with sensitive stomachs, consider yourself warned before you read this!

Day 1 – Khao-ing at Khao San 

We landed super early in the morning (cheap ticket alert), and spent 2 hours waiting for the visa on arrival. For anyone who decides to go to Bangkok because of the visa on arrival, I strongly recommend getting it in advance because the disorganized queue is no fun. We had about an hour to kill before checking in to our AirBNB, and so we chose to go to a mall that the owners recommended. This was a local mall in Sukhumvit, clearly not a tourist hangout – in order to get some bubble tea, we had to wait till the iPad on the table played the ad for bubble tea and point.

Once we’d checked in, and cleaned up, we headed out to our first stop – Khao San Road. We started our food explorations at the street vendors near Soi Rambuttri and sampled our way through Pad Thai and rice with two kinds of curry. We walked down the length of the Soi and picked from carts that looked most interesting.

 

 

V considered buying a scorpion on a stick, but skipped it because the 200Baht price was too expensive (yes, he knows how much insects on a stick should cost). Given how muggy it was, we decided to sample some local beer at Khao San road and then began the hunt for the insect cart (top of V’s agenda).

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I recommend Chang for those who like lighter beers.

We found a cart almost as soon as we started looking, and she created a mixed box of insects (grasshoppers, silk worms, bamboo worms, beetles, crickets, waterbugs, frogs) for 200Baht. She also sold him a centipede for 100 baht, a spider for 200 baht and a snake for 500 baht; and threw in a discount for such a top-end customer (AND we weren’t charged 10baht for a photo of the cart).

V’s Verdict: Unfortunately, all insects tasted the same, and of the overused oil they’d been fried in. Of course each had its own texture, so V might be able to blind taste and identify them next time (or so he claims). V’s tip – buy insects from a wholesale market and fry them yourself. Overall, we recommend eating at the street stalls at Soi Rambuttri. We also ate at one of the restaurants at Khao San, but the food was nowhere near as good.

Day 2 – Khlong Tooey Wet Market

We planned to wake up super early and head to Khlong Tooey wet market, the largest wholesale market in the region. We overslept, but still chose to visit the market. We took a direct train from the Phra Rang 9 MRT station to Khlong Tooey. It took us some wandering around on the roads before we found the market, though. At Khlong Tooey, we found every possible species of fruit, vegetable and meat in an infinite maze of shops and alleys. Basically in the absence of a zoo or botanical garden, this market can be visited.

The market explorations started with what sounded like squid in banana leaf (per the vendor’s sign language), but was likely some other kind of fish in banana leaf (per V’s expert opinion).

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Can you identify the fish?

The highlight, however, was finding a lady selling ant-eggs, which was one of the reasons why V wanted to visit this market. He believes he has amazing luck with finding food, because the market was ginormous and we only spent a couple of hours, yet he was able to find what he wanted. He bought about 100g of ant eggs as well as a 100g combo of ants and wasps for 100 baht. The transaction was conducted almost entirely in sign language, and pointing at calculators and weighing scales. When we started, we thought she was selling a kilo of ant eggs for 5 Baht. This turned out to have been a kilo for 50o Baht, so clearly some sort of translation app would have been beneficial! And these aren’t the tiny ants you find scurrying about aimlessly in our homes or yards, these are big-ass ants, of the size of wasps, and I’m sure they would be roaming around with serious business out there in the wild.

While we were heading out from this section (that also had chicken and other meats that I was trying to avoid looking at), V happened to find yet another delicacy that comes from the villages of the area – rats. I’d like to think he didn’t buy any because I couldn’t stand the thought of walking around with one and then cooking it. But actually, I guess he didn’t buy it because he couldn’t have possibly cut, cooked and cleaned it in the AirBnb. So that’s one weird food that remains off the list, thanks to me.

 

From Khlong Tooey, we headed to do some regular site-seeing because I couldn’t possibly let V leave Bangkok without seeing ANY Buddhas. I highly recommend the directions in this post to make your way to Wat Pho and then Wat Arun, like we did. Between the two temples, we had more bubble tea, and a very special dish of Thailand – the Boat Noodles – as always, presented in an especially deep bowl as it was traditionally a dish sold and had on the wobbling boats by the boatmen. In addition to seeing the Golden Buddha, and climbing up Wat Arun, V was able to sample some street side squid. I really liked how the street vendors presented the food – it was MasterChef level plating, complete with the flower.

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Once we were done with the site-seeing portion of the day, we moved on to Chinatown, in search of Birds’ Nest Soup. If you Google Chinatown, there are many restaurants recommended to try out this dish, and we chose to head to Hua Seng Hong. For those who haven’t been part of a quizzing circuit, let me remind you that birds’ nest soup is a delicacy which gets its semi-sweet taste from the birds’ saliva used to make the nest.

While we were hunting through restaurant recommendations, I read about a street vendor who made awesome toast, but it was really hard to locate the guy. Until, I spotted a group of teenagers eating it. I couldn’t help but ask where they’d bought it, and I was given directions (and also a look of ‘doesn’t the crazy lady have a map?’) to the toast guy. This toast is so popular, there’s a huge line of people on the sidewalk just waiting to be served. They have a set of chits with numbers on them, so one needs to enter their name + order and drop it into a bucket. The servers pick these up and call out the number when the order is ready. We tried some toast with a local jaggery like paste. If, like me, you’re a mere spectator to the weird food eating, I highly recommend the toast to accompany your explorations. I also managed to pick up some Green Tea KitKat Icecream (verdict: weird, but yummy) at the 7-11 before we headed back.

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At home, V finally got to cook the ant-eggs he’d bought. I also did him the favor of squishing (“pre-cracking”) the eggs as a result of carrying them in my bag all day (I had a book in the bag that I was speed reading, because I’d found it at the AirBnb and wanted to finish it before we left). He stir fried the eggs in butter, and added some soy sauce for flavor.

V’s Verdict: “The most tasty egg bhurji ever!” As a bonus, there were some wasps sized ants that got cooked in with the eggs, for added protein, flavor and crunchiness. The ant eggs had an inherent lemony taste, which he says comes from mango leaves that are a part of the ant’s diet.

Day 3 – Feeling Fishy at the Floating Market

Bangkok has many floating markets, which are large tourist attractions. Our research pointed us toward Taling Chan Floating Market which isn’t touristy, but is frequented by locals. So that’s where we headed. V thought he was being super prepared and had a Google maps shot of the destination, with Thai directions that he shared with the cab driver. However, it turned out that the words “market” on a Saturday meant only one thing to the cab driver who clearly did not know a word of English (and definitely didn’t read Thai) – Chatuchak Market, the giant flea market that tourists flock to in droves. We planned to go there, but only after we’d eaten at Taling Chan. So we were forced to get off at Chatuchak and find another cab that actually knew where to take us.

When we first got to Taling Chan, we were surprised to see that there were no boats. Just a bunch of stalls on a dock. We thought that we were so delayed that we’d missed the floating stalls. We were standing on the dock, when we noticed boats with vendors further ahead. We walked on to discover the actual floating market – clearly Taling Chan floating market has led to this dock that calls itself ‘Wat Taling Chan market’ for unsuspecting tourists who aren’t quite sure where they want to go.

The actual market had a bunch of street stalls before you head onto a giant boat with different stalls. Each stall buys produce and fish from a boat by the side – there’s everything from variations of the papaya salad, to different varieties of fish, mussels and other sea food. They also had variations of Thai Iced Tea to go with the food. And for dessert, there’s the famous Mango + Sticky Rice combination, to make the most of being in Bangkok during mango season.

 

We opted for a grilled fish and a plate of shellfish, both extremely tasty. Once we’d stuffed ourselves at Taling Chan, we headed back to follow the tourist path and explore Chatuchak Market.

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While I busied myself buying random things that I will never end up using, V managed to find squid eggs at the food stalls near the homeware section of the market. We also had still more bubble tea, and a strawberry cooler while we roamed around in the heat. The highlight of Chatuchak for me, though, was the amazing foot massage at a stall near the apparel section of the market.

V’s Verdict: “Foods taste best in their natural place of occurrence. What’s better than buying fish from someone sitting on a boat? Chatuchak is a flea market with food options too, so neither were the expectations, nor was the experience high on the food dimension”. He is happy that he had a new species’ eggs and is now planning to make a separate egg chart. He claims he has had eggs of enough different kinds to start one.

So that’s 3 days of weird eating (and a LOT of bubble tea drinking) at Bangkok. If you’re interested in seeing V’s chart, let me know in the comments and I’ll share where he’s at in his quest to eat his way around the world. And if you’d like to know more about planning a trip to Bangkok, I can help with that, too!

 

Of moving, and falling in like with a place…

For the first time ever, I’ve grown to like a place. I like it so much, it’s almost ‘home’, a term that I’ve never wanted to use for any place before, ever. Ironically, I’ve only spent one year here – the least amount of time in any place I’ve lived.

Maybe it’s because it’s such a perfect mix of the best things of every other place. The weather is like Coimbatore, but better (almost Ooty-like). I like in a super quirky part of town that feels just like Berkeley. There are so many lakes, they are a great beach-substitute, so I don’t miss Madras. There’s always something or the other happening, especially in the summer, and that reminds me of Bombay. There is also nothing that reminds me of Gurgaon, which is more a positive than anything else.

Maybe it’s all of the above, or maybe it’s some of it. I don’t know why, but I really like Seattle. I didn’t even realize it, and I fell for it. It’s super ironic that I realize this today, when I’ve just finished selling most of my stuff and I’m getting ready to relocate in 9 days.

I’ve lived in many places before, but nothing ever got under my skin like this. Seattle, I will miss you.

So, I’m a Starbucks person now?

I was talking to someone at work (in India) and he was giving me an example which involved Cafe Coffee Day. Before I could say anything, he says, “Oh, so just so you know, CCD, Cafe Coffee Day is like Starbucks in India. They have cafes across the country and people can go there for coffee, snacks etc.” I would’ve interrupted if I could but by that point I was just shocked.

I’ve been in the US for all of 3 years. I spent my entire teens and early 20s in India. I was once the person who drove my friends so we could go to the grand opening of CCD in Coimbatore (and caused a giant traffic jam in the middle of RS Puram, but that’s a whole other story). And yet, I have now been abroad long enough that people naturally assume I won’t even know what that is.

I feel like a true NRI now.

Frozen Sleepover Ideas

Are there any Frozen-crazy kids in your life? If you can put up with the endless looping of ‘Let it Go’, you can try out these fun Frozen-inspired sleepover ideas. I picked these because they were fun and easy, and my 5 year old niece, A (who I was babysitting) loved all of them.

Activities

Nailpolish – A wanted to try ‘patterns’ so I gave her half-n-half combos. Any other kind of design would’ve been impossible on her tiny nails.

DIY Elsa Crown – I found some glittery construction paper, and drew the outline of the Elsa crown. A cut out the shape, and I showed her how to thread ribbons through the ends. I also had stick-on jewels that she used to decorate the crown. It took us about 30 minutes to make the crown. She loved it, and I was glad that there was very little cleanup involved!

Sparkly headband – She used the leftover stick on jewels to decorate a headband. Technically, this isn’t a ‘Frozen’ activity but she likes to pretend that sparkly headbands are tiaras, so it qualifies. Unlike the crown, this headband can be worn to school, so she’s all excited about that too.

Note: all activities were accompanied by the endless looping of ‘Let it Go’ (we are huge fans of the singalong version).

Food

Popcorn Snowballs: I found this recipe on Pinterest, and it was a huge hit. I couldn’t find snowflake sprinkles, so I just used the regular blue glitter kinds. A loved it because the sprinkles stained her mouth blue and she could stick her blue tongue out.

Book

What’s a bed time routine that doesn’t involve a book? A reads every night, and I wanted to get her a book just to make our sleepover special. I veered away from the Frozen theme to get her a sleepover themed book instead. So I went with her ‘second favorite’ princess, Sofia the first. She’d already seen the episode with ‘Sofia – The Royal Slumber Party‘, but was still thrilled to be able to read the book.

Since I went over to A’s place to babysit her, I packed the sleepover things in a bag that I decorated with DIY snowflakes. They’re giant sized because I didn’t realize how big they’d be when I started cutting them out. This was a great way to pass time as I watched ‘Grey’s Anatomy’. A’s mom plans to reuse the snowflakes on a gift bag for A’s friend who is having a Frozen themed birthday party later this month.

Here are some pictures from the sleepover, to inspire you to try out your own version of this!

Frozen Sleepover Ideas