Monthly Archives: November 2011

Sri Lanka: Tea Country.

We just got back from Sri Lanka and tea country was certainly the highlight.

We agree that we don’t think we’ve been anywhere quite as beautiful–ever.
The terraced tea bushes were breathtaking–reminiscent of Tuscany’s vineyards.
Tea doesn’t like to sit in water so they have to plant it on steep hills, which makes for such delightful terracing. 

Did you know that left to its own devices, tea plants would grow to tall trees, but to make it easier to pick they prune it into short bushes? Many of these bushes were 150 years old!!
In its efforts to ‘be a tree’ it sends out shoots and leaves very rapidly. Each tea plant is picked every seven days. They only want the first and second leaves… and 30% of the time they’ll take the third.
All of the pickers are Tamil women. They pick so quickly and work so hard, it’s really very humbling to watch. The leaves are carried in bags attached to their heads so their arms are free to pick.
The ladies make just $5US a day picking, but their housing, schooling and medical is all covered the plantation owners. Despite all of their hard work for very little money, the women were so happy and greeted us with many smiles.
All of tea country is covered in well-kept paths for the workers, which made for excellent hiking for us. Walking the trails was my favorite part by far of the trip.
And boy were we thankful for our desk jobs after watching these people work!
So although we skipped Turkey and instead had rice and curry, it was still a very fitting place to be for Thanksgiving.
Just below the high-grown tea, at a slightly lower elevation you find lots of tea paddies, which are also stunning.
I can’t even tell you how much I loved that bright, bright, bright green!

The only thing I absolutely couldn’t stand about tea country was getting there. All the roads are one lane, with two directions and the drivers there are INSANE.

So although we really missed our families, we were so thankful for the chance to see such a beautiful place and to meet such warm people.

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Takashimaya: Knitting and stationery accessories.

Now where do you think the HKHousewife was most excited about shopping while in Singapore? Why, Takashimaya, the stunning Japanese department store, of course. There used to be one in Manhattan, but it sadly closed. Thank you, crashing stock market.

The first little fun thing I found was this cute (and also very durable, because it’s Japanese made) pouch for my knitting accessories.

Does anyone know the story behind Clover? Half their packages are in Japanese… are they a Japanese company? The Japanese are crazy about knitting.

I also picked up some fun clear folders–my favorite way to stay organized.

This one is PERFECT for trips… itineraries, packing lists, flight info. Always good to have a hard copy of these just in case.

As part of my ‘get organized efforts’ I made my own personalized packing list. It’s insanely detailed but really helps me know that I for sure have everything. I give it a once over when packing up–just to make sure I didn’t leave anything behind  in the hotel.

And of course with me it always comes back to knitting. This three-prong folder holds the three patterns I’m currently knitting perfectly!

Besides an incredible gift and home goods assortment, the basement also has an incredible food court. Well really, it’s nothing like an American mall’s food court… but you get the idea.

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Singapore: Spicy crab and mango chicken.

While we were in Singapore we enjoyed two local specialties: Spicy crab and mango chicken.

There are two types of famous crabs here: white pepper crab and chili crab. What was so funny is that I have a mild to medium tolerance of spice and I LOVED the white pepper crabs, but the Mr. couldn’t tolerate them! Reversely, he LOVED the chili-spiced mango chicken and I couldn’t stand more than two bites.

It goes to show you that there are SO many types of spicy food. The Mr.’s mother doesn’t use much pepper so he’s not used to it, whereas I grew up with a decent amount of pepper and quite enjoy it. (Sidenote: at home, I use white pepper as a nice compromise that we both enjoy.) Different spices also have different anecdotes: milk is very good for Mexican spices, but I recommend brown sugar to combat chili heat.

Spicy foods literally kill your taste buds, which is why it’s really possible for your tolerance of spicy food to change–I know mine has since moving to Asia. My friend Tammy found this cool chart about the history and evolution of various spices. Enjoy!

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Singapore: The Sands.

Last week we were in Singapore for the Mr.’s conference. I traded my work-from-home view of Victoria Harbor for a view of the new Marina Sands Hotel. It’s a pretty cool looking building–it’s basically a battleship on top of three towers. The towers themselves are kind of like mini-tee-pees which is pretty awesome.

The sands also boasts a light show, complete with lasers, but it’s not as cool as Hong Kong’s. Last time we were in Singapore we headed up to the top where there are palm trees and a giant infinity pool. We also enjoyed the most expensive beers of our life: $24US for a Coors Light. Naturally we decided to dine elsewhere. Some other interesting facts about the Sands:

  • At close to $7 billion US, it is the most expensive casino ever built.
  • It looks like that investment is paying off, as the Casino made close to $2 billion US just this year alone.
  • Only a mere 3% of its square feet are devoted to gambling. The rest is a mall, hotel, a museum with serious rotation exhibits, a canal, and convention center.
  • It boasts the highest grossing Louis Vuitton in the world. At 20,000 square feet, it’s also the world’s largest LV.
  • The Sands and Resort Worlds Santosa were able to negotiate a 15 year exclusive meaning no other casinos can open in Singapore for the next 14 years.
  • Despite all the hub-hub about the Sands, one of the Mr.’s colleagues fears stepping foot there. He fears that because its a giant monument to capitalism and gambling right next to the largest populations of Muslims in the world, that it might soon be blown up. It’s proximity to the sea doesn’t help things.

To the right is the center of Singapore. The Fullerton Hotel, a former bank, is the short, pretty white building in front. Singapore’s claims to fame:

  • The world’s fourth leading financial centre.
  • The world’s second biggest casino gambling market, after Macau. Vegas is third.
  • With only two casinos, just 18 months after opening, Singapore is already larger than Las Vegas.
  • The world’s top three oil refining centers.
  • The port of Singapore is one of the five busiest ports in the world.
  • Singapore has a mandatory year of military services for all males aged 18. It also boasts the most technologically advanced military in Asia. We’ve heard anecdotally from Singapore ex-pats that a Singapore passport is just as good as an American one, but your sons do have to give up a year of their lives and there is no getting out of it.

Singapore is a true melting pot. There are four official languages: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. 33% are Buddhists, 18% Christian, 15% Islam, and 11% Taoist. While visiting, I checked out Singapore’s Chinatown which is very large, alive and bustling. As evidence I suppose of the Chinese influence, I leave you with this last picture: the conference goers receiving free foot / shoulder massages in antique Chinese chairs in the hotel lobby. These finance guys really don’t have it that tough!

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Yarn Along: Cables and Blue Nights.

Ginny over at Small Things has a Yarn Along from time to time. My mother-in-law who is also an avid knitter introduced me to it.

I really love the idea of a yarn along because until you’ve tried it… you just can’t understand how addicting knitting is. Ravelry is another online knitting community that I can spend hundreds of hours perusing and it’s where I found the pattern for this cabled afghan… my first go at cables–it’s so fun to see them come together! Cables are pretty crazy because you actually do twist the stitches over themselves–it looks twisted because it is.

Ginny also includes a picture in her Yarn Along of whatever she’s reading… I just finished Joan Didion’s ‘Blue Nights.’ For whatever reason, I have a thing for depressing/sad books so it’s no surprise that I could not put down this memoir about her grief after her only daughter’s death in her mid-forties. I also really liked ‘A Year of Magical Thinking,’ her memoir about her husband passing the year before. Joan has not had an easy go of it to say the least. But, she really is just the kind of lady I hope to be when I’m pushing 80. She has had an immensely full life–one many, myself included, could envy–but has also seen complete tragedy, yet perseveres through her grief so honestly.

Both of these books I would recommend as a gift to someone who has lost a spouse or a child. Certainly, it’s not something we can understand, but I think these books go a long way of describing how grief feels and perhaps understanding the parts of the experience that are universal would be helpful to someone experiencing them for the first time. In addition into insights into grief, Joan also has some interesting thoughts on parenting, and in particular adopting, that I’m excerpting for you below. She also gives a very good description of what it’s like to realize that you’re old, but I’m going to save those quotes for you in case you decide to read it yourself!

“You have your wonderful memories,” people said later, as if memories were solace. Memories are not. Memories are by definition of times past, things gone. Memories are the Westlake uniforms, the invitations to the weddings of the people who are no longer married, the mass cards from the funerals of the people whose faces you no longer remember. Memories are what you no longer want to remember.”

Wow. Remind me never to accidentally mention that trite line to someone grieving.

“Some of us feel this overpowering need for a child and some of us don’t. It had come over me quite suddenly, in my mid-twenties, when I was working for Vogue, a tidal surge. Once this surge hit I saw babies wherever I went. I followed their carriages on the street. I cut their pictures from magazines and tacked them on the wall next to my bed. I put myself to sleep by imagining them.”

I think it’s very true that some people feel this and some don’t. Which camp did / do you fall in?

“The very definition of success as a parent has undergone a telling transformation: we used to define success as the abilty to encourage the child to grow into independent (which is to say adult) life, to “raise” the child, to let the child go… instead, ourselves the beneficiaries of this kind of benign negletc, we now measure success as the extent to which we manage to keep our children monitored, tethered, tied to us.”

A pretty good summation of the current issues facing parenting today.

“All adopted children, I am told, fear that they will be abandoned by their adoptive parents as they believe themselves to be abandoned by their natural… all adoptive parents, I do not need to be told, fear that they do not deserve the child they were given, that the child will be taken from them.”

I had certainly heard the former statement, but the latter one was new to me.

She also quotes W.H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues” which I am bookmarking for a dark day. And I’m sure you can see why after all these deep thoughts knitting is the perfect outlet!!

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