Saturday, 22 December 2007


Oh so many years ago, a good friend sent me this for Christmas.
In the intervening years, life pulled us down separate and diverging paths.
Into different countries, vocations and beliefs. Still, this anonymous poem stayed with me. Accompanying me through the dark anguish and the giddying highs.
I guess maybe the meaning that Christmas held for us when we were young still holds as we move into the second half of our lives.

This one's for Adrian and for all who look for a little meaning beneath the glitter, the commercialisation and those ghastly repeating pop carols.

A Very Merry Christmas One and All.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

The Road Traveled

I had wanted to do this last year. Filled out the application forms and all. But knowing how way leads onto way, I purposely got distracted with all the other happenings in life and did not apply to participate. I decided not only not to take the road less traveled. I decided not to travel down any road at all.

But this year, this year was different. A path seemed to be leading down toward the building (rather than playing at) of an actual business revolving around making things with gorgeous fabrics. For the time being , the gorgeousness covers mostly scarves & bags.

So I applied to take part in a Christmas Craft Market. The Creative Finds Market to be exact. I had been so impressed by the organisation and marketing zip of a fab crafter called Nicci Battilana who's in charge of the Craft Market that when she asked if I'd wanted in, I said "Yes" before I had time to consult with my doubts. A good thing too. Because I sold stuff and, more importantly, I followed my sister's advice and actually had fun. And for the first time since I'd come to Vancouver, I felt more in touch with the person I'd left in Singapore. And that's a wonderful thing.

It also helps to have friends. Especially girl friends. They support you through your craziness and your joy. They let you rant your frustrations and roar your successes. And, they also accompany you when you have to man a stall for 8 hours at a Christmas Craft Fair (how else would you take a loo break?) . Thank god for girl friends. Thank god for Olian. Who not only helped bring the extension cords I forgot, but also flaunted the fact that she was one of my first happy scarf customers to my new scarf customers. That endorsement really helped sell. Besides, she knows how to dress. Which only made the scarves look better.

And I guess it's true then. This belief that the spirit or the intent behind which something is done communicates, somehow, unseen to people, strangers. And they react to it. Which is probably why, the scarves got sold, women, and some men left smiling and chuffed, and we won the stall holders prize for best display, packaging & product. Which was all the more satisfying because it was never expected.

A Little Note: I have to apologise for the incredibly blurry pics at the Craft Market. It was cold that day, snow up to your ankle (and for a girl from the tropics, that's alot especially when you have to drive in it), and I had only 4 hours of sleep the night before, worrying, preparing, worrying, planning,worrying, packing and did I mention worrying?

Saturday, 3 November 2007

3 Weeks in Portugal

Been away, as I'm sure you can tell. To a country I've always wanted to go but never had the chance, Portugal. It was always, somehow, just too inconvenient to get to, being at the edge of Europe and all. And every previous trip to Europe centered around London, Nice & Vienna.

But to a girl from Singapore, growing up propped at the tip of the Straits of Malacca, you hear stories of the Portuguese. Of Afonso de Albuquerque who captured Malacca, of how the seafaring Portuguese ruled Malacca as a trading port & emporium back in the 16th century and you'd also have many Eurasian friends descended from those early colonialist with surnames like De Souza, Thesiera, D' Almeda. Although Portugal was thousand of clicks away, it still felt unexpectedly familiar.

b & I only had 3 weeks for the land of the Lusitanians so we decided to concentrate on just the south: Alentejo, the Algarve and around Lisbon. No point mad-dashing through a host of towns spending only a day there with not much time t o soak up the atmosphere. No, we'd take a fairly relaxed route. Moving out from Lisbon eastward toward the medieval town of Marvao, perched on a high outcrop overlooking the dry plains of western Spain; then working our way southwards to Evora, with it's romantic Roman ruins, to Mertola where a languid river runs, then to the Algarve . Staring with a charming town called Tavira, staying in a converted Tuna factory, working westward toward the end of the world to a place called Sagres, then travelling up northward to coastal Alentejo and back to Lisbon having circled the south in 2 weeks.

But to spare you from a long-drawn tale of travel, I'll be splitting up the story into 3 parts.

This one will be about Lisbon, the place where there's so much to tell.

I'll do the next post on the inland Alentejo pit-stops. Especially morbid was the Chapelle Dos Ossos, The Chapel of Bones, which was built with 5000 skeletons....freaky.

The final post should cover the meandering through coastal towns in the Algarve, Alentejo & around Lisbon.

It's been a couple of years since I've been back to Europe and so it was Lisbon's Euro-ness that struck me. I couldn't keep my eyes off all the architectural intricacies, the millennia of history seeping out between the cobbled streets and the oh-so stylish cars zipping about the roads.

Lisbon was all but demolished in the great earthquake of 1755, one of the worst earthquakes in history. The city was rebuilt by the then Prime Minister, the Marquis of Pombal, who was one of the first to build a city based on a grid road system. The buildings constructed during his rule were made earthquake proof. And this is in the 16th century! This was just one example of his futuristic thinking. He also built extra wide 3-laned roads in the time of horse & carriage. When someone asked him why, he said that someday these roads would be small. And while drinking potent cafe pingado on a street side cafe and looking at the choc-a-bloc stream of cars chugging down Avenida Liberdade, I'd say Pombal must have had a crystal ball.

The city spreads over several hills and in the course of exploring the sights, there were tons of puffing up steep gradients.

Lisbon's ingenious solution to taking the pant out of hill climbing was to build elevators and trams, otheriwse known as funinculars, that ply slopes. Although most of the city folk don't use them anymore. More for the tourists like this girl.

And like tourists we also took the other wooden tram to explore an area called Alfama. It was one of the precious parts of Lisbon not destroyed by the earthquake.

In the 700;s when the Moors wrestled parts of southern Portugal away from the Visigoths and other Germanic tribes, Alfama made up the entire city of Lisbon.

Today, though, it is a labyrinth of narrow & twisting streets. And that wooden tram ride through it is not for those of you with weak stomachs.

On top of one of her hills is Castelo Sao Jorge. An expansive fortress castle with a commanding lookout over the river Tagus. It gave us one of our first overviews of the city. The replica of the Golden Gate bridge, the other hill Barrio Alto with it's destroyed Cammerlite church & lace steel street elevator, the large squares with statues and it's many green parks.

I think that one of the enjoyment of travelling is the unexpected that greets you when you turn around an unfamiliar corner. On the Thursday before we were to come back to Vancouver, on our way to lunch, we turned the corner that linked our hotel to Avenida Libradade. Sprinkled among the streams of people were many wearing garments of a particular green.
As we walked toward the Rossio we started seeing more and more of these greenlings. How odd! Then rounding another corner we came face to face with an entire square of leprechaun green Celtic Football club supporters come to Lisbon for a game with Benfica, one of Lisbon's teams. It was such a happy festive atmosphere buzzing the city that day. Of anticipation and pride. So taken by the vibe were we that we actually made it to street cafe to watch the game. It was like world cup all over again! Magic!!

Sadly for the Celts, they lost. Suffice to say, there were many dark & depressed-looking fans in green the next day at breakfast lamenting the game.

The other thrilling unexpected find was the little known & extremely vicious Attack Butterflies of Lisbon. So dangerous are they that they are locked up behind heavy steel doors in Lisbon's Natural History museum. A must see for all brave souls.

Well, that's the bit for Lisbon. Will be posting the rest when I gather up enough steam.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Reaching the Inner Princess

Our friends Thom, Pauline & their little daughter, Georgia, were leaving Vancouver after more than 15 years living here (well not Georgia, she's only been around 2 years or so). They were driving across the breadth of Canada, to Ontario, to make a new home there. For those of you who are used to Singaporean or European distances, it's like driving from Singapore, up peninsular Malaysia, through Thailand & Cambodia, up the length of Vietnam, pass Yunnan and southern China to Beijing. Or from London to Tehran. But this is beside the point.

The point is. I didn't get to say goodbye to Georgia, not that she'd remember me, her being a wee girl and all. But I felt that I wanted to give her something to remember Vancouver by. Reaching into the depths of my own inner Princess (which I knew EVERY girl must have inside her) I dredged up long forgotten memories of what someone shorter than 3 feet would find fab & fun. Then I put together the design for 3 little girl purses. All were made of glow-in-the-dark fabrics which will give children loads to fun with after the sun sets.

Inspired by another princess from a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away, Princess Neon Cheesecake came into being. She's was a twin of the one that went to Georgia. Pink, yellow with headphone-like handles resembling the clenched fists of a power puff girl. She was bought the moment I'd put her online.

Then came Princess Lime Sherbet to keep Cheesecake company.

Princess Lemon Lollipop completes the trio of royalty. Each with a colour & a character of her very own. Kinda like every little princess exploring in every girl. Or sleeping in every woman.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

We've Struck Oil !!!

Never thought I get a first-hand taste of living in the Middle East till last Tuesday.

I was visiting Hazra's place in North Burnaby, near the Burrard Inlet. And we were having a fun time with her teaching me how to make a proper Malay Mee goreng. After filling out tummies & just before dessert, I noticed a young fireman walking up her garden path. All my thoughts of how cute he looked in his sleeveless overalls were truncated when he calmly informed us we had to be evacuated from the house. Pronto. There was some sort of oil or gas leak a couple of doors down and all the residents were to be moved to a little pub about 1km away.

The video will give you a better idea of what happened.

The oil spill closed the Barnet highway for 2 days ( a major route from Port Moody to the City) and the environmental damage to the wildlife of the Burrard Inlet is yet to be determined. Apparently a city road crew punctured the pipe and for a while, it looked like the oil strike from the Beverly Hillbillies.

Almost a week later and the pipe's been repaired. The highway's been cleaned up, the homes & gardens covered with the crude oil will probably not restored.
And the funny thing is, for me, the flavour of Nasi Goreng will forever be laced with the pungent & headache-inducing aroma of dark crude oil fumes.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Every Girl Needs a Little Fountain

The sound of flowing water, especially when you live in a busy, bustling,noisy city can give surprising comfort. Maybe it's something to do with the feng shui of having energy made moving by the trickling water. Maybe it's a gentle reminder of the visceral simplicity of being in nature where the body just knows how to relax.

I worked in a wonderful tropical spa on the beautiful island of Bintan for quite a few years before I came to live in BC. In and around this spa were many places where water flowed. From tilted jars made of volcanic rock to large jars overflowing in a symphony of trickles and splashes. It made the plants look lush and helped the over-wrought people who came to the spa chill and thoroughly relax.

Methinks, I was gonna have me one of them water features.

If I were back in Singapore, I'd know where to get one. The Nature Company was the place where the spa used to get all her water features. They have all sorts. From the rustic to the modern to the air-spritzing kind. In fact, for the cost-conscious, they even have simple DIY instructions where all you need to do is to buy the components to build your own little water feature.

But since I'm now living in DIY country. I had to make one on my own. Also, to get someone else to do it would cost an arm & a leg. And then how could I go on crafting? Nothing for it then but to scope out the rock suppliers and garden shops.

My main problem was where would I get the reservoir big enough to hold the water? Since my water feature was on above ground on a balcony I couldn't dig and in ground reservoir. Custom fiberglass containers were priced ridiculously out of range, and most rectangular containers had sides that were too high. Finally, the demon cat came to the rescue. Her litter tray was, why, it was just the perfect size. Ok, I'm not that gross to use her litter tray as my reservoir, but the pet shop down the road had one just like it.

Next step was to choose something from which the water would spout. An object d'art as my favourite City Gardener, Matt James says at least twice an episode. And I'd the perfect thing. An old clay urn I'd found in a deserted fisher hut on the east coast of Malaysia, which I'd lugged home to Singapore and subsequently brought to Canada.

Drilling a hole in its bottom was a heart attack and a half. I'd never done any delicate drilling before! What if I drilled and then cracked it? Breath held tight, heart beating at full gallop, I proceeded. The gods must have been in a good mood that afternoon because it was a hole in one.

Hoses fixed to a pump & into the urn. Bricks around the reservoir, plants placed to soften the hard edges and river rock in the urn to moderate the fountain. And there you have it. Some flowing shui to go with the whipping feng in this wild west coast .

But more than that. It gives me a small sense of being able to make a thought, and idea, a feeling see the light of day.

And that is a good feeling.

Thursday, 19 July 2007


I turned on the radio in the middle of a BBC interview a couple of months ago. Owen Bennett-Jones was on with his programme called The Interview. Had no idea who he was talking to or what it was about until I heard "Plant a Billion Trees". Now that caught my imagination. It turned out to be an interview with Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Winner and environmental activist whom I'd never heard of (shows you the depth of my general knowledge!). There was something down-to-earth and compelling about the way she spoke. I listened on and was happy. Following is the BBC's website's write up on that interview. Click on the link is you want to read some more about her.

"Dig a hole and plant a tree!"

Wangari Maathai is an environmental activist, a Kenyan government minister, a Nobel peace prize winner. Her despair at the chronic deforestation evident in her home country, when she returned after 15 years abroad, led to a simple act: she began to plant trees.
To date she has helped local women plant over 35 million trees in Kenya and she is challenging the global community to plant a billion trees by the end of this year.

The connections she has made between deforestation, hunger and political unrest have brought her powerful enemies as well as international acclaim; of Daniel Arap Moy, the former Kenyan President, she says: "He sure didn't like me much, did he!"

I've always believed that one of the simplest thing a person could do to help the planet remove the CO2 in the atmosphere and lower global temperatures was as easy as to plant a tree. And if you only have a balcony or a window, then plant flowers, herbs or shrubs. Just plant something. Anything.

I guess I'm not the only one who thinks that way. “The symbolism – and the substantive significance – of planting a tree has universal power in every culture and every society on Earth, and it is a way for individual men, women and children to participate in creating solutions for the environmental crisis.” Al Gore, Earth in the Balance

Much of the inspiration comes, I'm sure, from the book (and later Oscar winning animation) titled The Man Who Planted Trees. The story about a shepherd who revives a desolate ecosystem of a secluded valley by single-handedly planting a forest over a thirty year period. And what did he do?....why he planted 100 acorns a day.

Wangari Maathai has an organisation called the Green Belt Movement working in conjunction with UNEP, the United Nations Environmental Programme to get people all over the world to pledge and then plant at least one billion trees in 2007.

If you'd like to get involved, go to the UNEP's Plant a Billion Tree website by clicking on this link There is a space on the on the top right hand corner that tells you the target, how many people have pledged to plant and how many have already planted trees. Currently the tally stands at 1,819,898,686 pledged and 1,008,033,579 trees planted. Looks like we've hit the mark. But several million more can only help rather than hurt. It's a really comprehensive site with links to organisations around the world involved in tree planting and even has technical instructions on how to successfully plant your own tree.

"If you are thinking a year ahead, sow a seed. If you are thinking ten years ahead, plant a tree." Chinese poet, 500 BC

"The best friend on Earth of man is the tree. When we use the tree respectfully and economically, we have one of the greatest resources of the Earth."
Frank Lloyd Wright

"They are beautiful in their peace; they are wise in their silence. They will stand after we are dust. They teach us, and we tend them."
Galeain ip Altiem MacDunelmor

"Though a tree grows so high, the falling leaves return to the root. "
Malay proverb

"A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."
Greek proverb

"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree." Martin Luther

"The great French Marshall Lyautey once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow growing and would not reach maturity for 100 years. The Marshall replied, 'In that case, there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon!'"
John F. Kennedy

"Trees are poems that Earth writes upon the sky. We fell them down and turn them into paper, that we may record our emptiness."
Kahlil Gibran

"A tree is our most intimate contact with nature."
George Nakashima, woodworker

"A tree uses what comes its way to nurture itself. By sinking its roots deeply into the earth, by accepting the rain that flows towards it, by reaching out to the sun, the tree perfects its character and becomes great. ... Absorb, absorb, absorb. That is the secret of the tree."
Deng Ming-Dao, Everyday Tao

"Plant trees. They give us two of the most crucial elements for our survival: oxygen and books. " A. Whitney Brown

"To me, nature is sacred; trees are my temples and forests are my cathedrals." Mikhail Gorbachev

"God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools. "
John Muir

"The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes no demands for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life and activity; it affords protection to all beings."
Buddhist Sutra

"People who will not sustain trees will soon live in a world which cannot sustain people. "
Bryce Nelson

"Reforesting the earth is possible, given a human touch."
Sandra Postel and Lori Heise, Worldwatch Institute