Start 2016 The Right Way, With Giftxoxo

The mad rush of Christmas shopping and gifting is over, and now everyone looks for that perfect dress to wear to the New Year’s Eve party. Arm candy having been secured, all that’s left is to pop open the bubbly, count down the last seconds of 2015 and hope the next year will be even better than this one. Now, for someone such as myself, the perfect way to start a new year would be with a new adventure, a trip somewhere or learning something new. Begin as you mean to go, as they say.

imageThis is where Giftxoxo comes in. The brilliant people over there have compiled and curated the best form of gifting there is: the gift of experiences! 

I am someone who likes to receive and give personalized gifts, not neessarily handmade, but with enough thought in them to be meaningful to the giver and receiver. If there is someone special in your life and you want to show them how much they mean to you, look no further. Giftxoxo has eliminated the time-consuming need to browse identikit gifts on shelves, virtual or solid, trying to find some semblance of a personal touch. From the comfort of wherever you happen to be, you can choose unique gifts that will leave lasting impressions. Be it an adventure, a painting class, a very special way to propose or an unforgettably decadent meal, it’s time to gift memories.

Giftxoxo has certainly widened my options and let me tell you, they’re putting the ‘joy’ back into the joy of giving.  They have a wide range of activities, adventures, getaways and sheer joy-inducing offerings such as this wonderful chance to learn to bake with friends and family. Why not send your hardworking mum, wife or sister on a spa day, and end it with a special dinner for two at that restaurant she’s been talking about for months? Or surprise your dad with some golf lessons? A few clicks is all it takes to rekindle romance, spend some one-on-one time with busy ones, and just show that you care.

As the years go on, we all realise that the best memories are never tied to things, but to people, to places, and experiences. In our busy lives we often forget that we don’t know how long this adventure called life will last, and that we must make time to let people know how much we love and appreciate them. If that sounds anything like you, what better time to put in the effort and make fresh memories than the occassion of a new year? With options in over 20 cities, I’m sure you’ll find just the right present this season at Giftxoxo. Go on, gift someone a new you, and who knows, maybe a new them.

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An Impossible Love: The Time Traveler’s Wife

 
I read a lot, and I mean a lot! The only times that I didn’t were when I felt the most disconnected from who I am. Books have been my companions through homesickness, then later through farsickness. Whether I am grounded or 30,000 feet in the air, rare is the moment when I am not accompanied by one of my trusty friends. There are many books that have touched my heart, leaving me broken at the end, sobbing like I’d lost my love, and ones that left me wistful (because it was over) but happy and glowing. I don’t usually talk too much about books I’ve read or ask for suggestions because tastes vary wildly. 

This is an exception though. Maybe because it was that much of a blind path I set down with this one, The Time Traveler’s Wife. I hadn’t heard much of this book, and didn’t personally know anyone who had read it. While flipping channels many months ago, I did feel intrigued by the title of this book (as a movie) among a string of others. I never watched the movie though, and got the book as a back-up read for my recent trip to Bali. I wanted to start December with ‘After You’, but then I knew I’d race through it and want need another one to keep the sadness of not having another Jojo Moyes offering for a while at bay. The Time Traveler’s Wife was my pick, I didn’t even glance at the author’s name, just hit ‘Buy’ on my Kindle.

It might seem weird to many of you, but one of the things I most like about getting a book by an author I’m not familiar with on Kindle is that I don’t check whether they’re male or female. It makes reading the story more interesting for me, guessing who penned those words. So, diligently not skipping the author’s note (no name mentioned there), I started the book. It took just a few pages to know I’d care deeply about this book, that I would be left devastated at the end. After I finished, I did find out that it was written by a woman, and I wasn’t expecting that for some reason, which made me love it even more. 

As is my usual style, I galloped through the story. And then forced myself to slow down, only taking small bites of the book at a time; a feeble attempt to eke it out for as long as possible. Then towards the last quarter, knowing the inevitability of imminent heartbreak, I tried to get it over with sooner rather than later. Like yanking off a Band-Aid.

Oh, this book touched me, it moved me. I haven’t read any others based around the theme of time travel before, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. But why should it be compared? This is only my opinion and my experience of it, after all. Relatable human emotions, flaws and stupidity woven together with the eternal feeling that haunts us all in one way or the other: love.  It made me laugh, cry, and cringe. It made me angry sometimes and it also made me believe. I’m not talking about the concept of time travel and chrono-impairement though. I will keep this book close to my heart. And when I have a house of my own that has more bookshelves than any other type of furniture, this one will be up there with the favourites. Oh, and I wish Audrey Niffeneger would finish writing Alba’s story soon!

Bali – The Wonderful Beginning

I’m back from my momentous, ice-breaker of a trip and still giddy about it all. When I started this blog, I remember dreaming of going somewhere alone, just me, my passport and a bag. I wasn’t sure how it would happen, let alone if it would happen. Now look at me, first solo trip done. And thoroughly enjoyed! I always knew I’d enjoy travelling alone, and am just so excited for all the places I have yet to see.

I chose Bali because I was enchanted by pictures I’d seen, photos by friends who had been there, and a sarong that a family friend brought back for me from the island some 18 years ago. *I am usually someone who, when left to her own devices, picks the most absolute worst item on the menu to try.* Not this time though. This time, I hit gold! All the way, baby. I am so glad that it was Bali that I went to, wide-eyed and happy, because I came back equally wide-eyed and happy.

The night before I had to come back home, I remember lamenting the unfairness of the tricks of time, slowing down and speeding up at the most inopportune moments. I wanted to make those 8 days stretch for an eternity. Then I asked myself, who is stopping me from going back? That’s right, no one! And once that realisation struck, I was back to happy.

Nusa Dua beach

Nusa Dua beach – where I spent most of my first day. Blue sky, clear waters, salty air, what more could one ask for? Perfection.

In the ‘land of gods’ as Bali is affectionately known, I found my creative home. Other than the effortless beauty of this gorgeous little island, the food, and the friendly people, I was absolutely captivated by the art, carvings, handicrafts and pure talent. For someone looking at the items on display from a tourist’s point of view it might get tedious. But for me, looking at them through artist’s eyes, the aesthetic was immensely inspiring; one of the main reasons why I am boldly declaring that this is only my first trip of many to Bali.

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Batik weaving on a traditional loom.


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The application of hot beeswax by hand, one of the crucial steps of the process of Batik printing.


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Batik patterns on a finished bit of fabric.


Wood carving, so intricate, so detailed and delicate!

Wood carving, so intricate, so detailed and delicate!


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Buddha – all shapes and sizes, only my luggage limits stopped me from throwing all my money at this place.


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How graceful!


These are just glimpses that I caught on my camera. Most of the time, I even forgot to click pictures as I was gaping at everything in wonder. (Now there is a little something I’m holding back from sharing, merely because it isn’t 100% set in stone, but once it is, the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place.) In the meantime, my creative juices are flowing and I have so many ideas teeming in my head, so many new dreams acquired and more castles in the sky to build. To be honest, there’s so much this trip did for me, on so many levels. Above all, I feel gratitude that it was possible. A trip hasn’t ended; in reality, what has happened is the beginning of a lifelong affair with this island.


How many of you fell so in love with a place that it felt like returning home? Which was that place? Let me know in the comments, and as always,

Happy and Safe Travels, my lovelies! x

Selamat Pagi from Bali

So my trip to Bali finally rolled around in the midst of a rare bout of cough and cold (I rarely fall ill), and low energy. And yes, of course the routine depression when you realise you’re turning yet another year older. The 6 hour layover at Singapore Changi airport would have been easier to bear if I’d made it in time to register for the free heritage tour they had going on. Not to mention the fiasco it took to get me to Kochi in the first place. I found myself fearing for the rest of trip, lest this was an omen for things to come.

Then this happened:


Okay, so not an omen then. Phew. I have already spent two nights and one day on this beatiful island where the people are friendly, everywhere I look are frangipani trees, the weather is balmy (not my favourite but hey, I did choose a beach destination), the food is amazing and the rates affordable.

As I turned 29 yesterday, I spent a relaxing, lazy day on the beach at Nusa Dua. I lay down, looked at the endless blue of the sea and sky, felt the breeze in my hair and watched as the dappled sun falling on my bare legs played hide and seek with the shadows. I read some pages of the much awaited After You by Jojo Moyes, contemplated life, stopped caring about most things I usually worry about and just was. A yummy lunch with a glass of white followed by a languid-paced walk and foot massage at Bali Collection saw a perfect day pretty much winding down. I came back to my hotel, swung my legs in the pool and sketched one of the water-spout holder ladies pictured above.

No birthday cake, no candles and no annoying singing of the (recently allowed for public use) ‘Happy birthday’ song. And yet, it has to be one of my favourite birthdays ever, probably my favourite actually. Now I find myself sitting by the pool with a platter of fresh fruit beside me and the sound of the water gushing from the lovely ladies’ pots into the pool and making a promise – that each year, I’ll do something like this for my birthday, for myself. And to top each year’s experience with the next. It may be a tall order but I won’t know till I try!

Ready, set, panic

pa*Let's just understand that 'panic' in the title is a verb. Okay, thanks!:p

I remember a naive me, sitting in this very same seat, tapping away at my keyboard 3 weeks ago, all calm and collected. Anyone see that person around anywhere? If you do, please let me know! I am now 5 days away from my much awaited (understatement of the decade) trip. And about as prepared as a jellyfish is for a life on land. Well, maybe just a tad bit better than that. Let’s take account.


Packing

  • Not even close. Usually I have some kind of clue as to what I want to pack. All I have swimming around in my head right now are: swimsuits, palazzo pants and shampoo.
  • Do I roll, fan and spread, or just go with traditional folding?
  • With a luggage limit of 7 kgs (yes, I picked that option), I have to pack much lighter to allow for the souvenirs I’ll pick up.

Planning

  • Zilch. Nu-uh. Nada.
  • True, I have asked some people who have been there before for help but I have to consolidate all the info into a plan.
  • I have vague images of snorkeling, the Gili Islands, cocktails and nasi goreng in my mind.

Budget

  • Again, I have a blanket sum that I can spend comfortably but that’s about it.
  • Day to day expense limits have to be calculated.
  • Occasional luxuries to be accounted for.

Keeping Calm

  • Not happening. I’m actually just penning this in a sneaky tab with work screaming to be finished in 4 others.
  • Zits. Yep, the stress ones! Nooo…. my pretty as a fairy Instagram pics seem doomed from the outset.
  • Emergency holiday diet begun in lieu of exercise, which I can’t find time for. Hate to report that cravings for the bad stuff are still in the building.

That’s all folks. Well, not really, but I must get back to work! Have a laugh at my expense and Happy Tuesday all! x

Sunday Pampering

I have so much reading to catch up on in the blog world that it is a little bit scary. How am I going to read more than 2 weeks’ worth of stories from all the wonderful people I follow? I have, sadly, been neglecting my little blog here too. Instagram and Facebook can be swiped through, a double-tap here, a like there, and an extra comment for good measure. But blogs, well, they need time and frankly, for me, a quiet space in which I can read without interruption. Which doesn’t seem likely to happen for the next few months.

I woke up today with the date flashing in my mind and my mental countdown becoming a little frantic for my upcoming trip to Bali. Yes, I want to get excited, I want to jump about and start packing. Yes, you read that right – packing. Two weeks in advance. Deep inside, that is how excited I am. Currently though, I have to mask it and carry on with mundane tasks. Another week, and I’ll let the dam burst open.

In the meantime, while I am firmly grounded and just waiting to catch my next flight, let me talk about other things. It’s Sunday today where I live and traditionally, Sundays have been for pampering and relaxing. Since I was around 14, this day of the week has been the one where I spend a bit of extra time on myself. At boarding school, we’d oil our hair the night before and wash it off in the morning, all shiny and ready for the week ahead. That practice has been let go of lately, simply because I shower after my workout and I refuse to jump about and lie on my yoga mat with oil in my hair.

I have been blessed with thick, healthy hair. Yes, I do complain about it sometimes, but I love it at the end of the day. Isn’t it amazing what a haircut and blow dry can do for a woman’s confidence? Same goes for when you can run your fingers through healthy, smooth hair. I do not believe in infusing my hair with chemicals, I did it once and swore: never again. There are alternatives, fret not. Today I’d like to share two hair masks that have done wonders for me.

1) Egg yolk and oil hair mask

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This is pretty simple if you’ve ever made mayonnaise. All you do is take a dry bowl, add in one egg yolk and whisk. Dribble in a tiny bit of oil and whisk well to incorporate. Continue to alternate with a tiny bit of oil and thorough whisking until the mixture is pale (around 30 seconds). After this, you can add in a bigger splash of oil and whisk, alternating until you have a thick mayonnaise. Apply liberally to hair, from root to tip. Leave on for 30 – 45 mins and wash off. Shampoo and condition as usual.

2) Avocado hair mask

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Another simple one, folks. Scoop out the flesh of an avocado, and mash it up in a bowl (I like to use a whisk. You can pop it in your blender if you prefer). Next, add in some olive oil and honey and mix well. I use sesame oil because I find it nourishes my hair very well, you can use an oil of your choice. Again, apply liberally, all over hair, but not too much on the roots if you have thin hair. Wash off after 30 – 45 minutes. Shampoo and condition as usual.


So how are you pampering yourselves today? Try these out and let me know if you like them. Happy Sunday, all! x

The Countdown Begins

Pixabay Image Courtesy: keulefm

Pixabay Image Courtesy: keulefm

Okay, so technically it may be a bit early, but who are we kidding, the countdown must begin! A month from now, somewhere around this time, I will land in beautiful Bali, Indonesia. To say I am looking forward to this trip is an understatement. To be honest, as with most things I look forward to, I’m afraid to jinx it. This time though, I’m letting all those doubts and unnecessary inside-head dialogues go. Go. Go, be free and don’t bother me.

I made a public announcement to break up with my favourite shopping site, Jabong, a few weeks ago. I am a little bit embarrassed to announce that I haven’t been able to keep myself away; man, J tempts me with these amazing deals and offers, and even makes me feel special by saying, “Psst, items in your wishlist are on sale.” I’m no weakling, but a girl can only hold herself back so much. I have been getting items with a view into the future (I’m being cryptic for now, deal with it), and I know that isn’t what one is ‘supposed’ to do, but I can’t remember the last time I gave a flip about what I was supposed to do. I have no intention of breaking that streak now that the going’s good. So yes, I have many nice new summery dresses, swimsuits, a spankin’ new carry on case, a handbag, a sling bag, new sandals, and assorted. I will follow the philosophy that has got me this far: Thou shalt not regret a purchase. Ever.

Where was I? Oh yes, the classic, wandering off despite having a map in hand that is my USP. Bali. That picture up there makes my mouth water, as do the innumerable Google searches that lead me to Bali’s precious ‘secrets’, what I must eat, what I must see, where I must go. I might be being a little over-optimistic (that’s a thing, right?) with all the things I want to actually eat, I mean I have a tiny appetite and a long list in my head, but I’m going to try dammit. And can I also say, I am so looking forward to Instagram-ing the beep out of my trip! Oh, yes!

The actual list making will be done in the last week before the trip, because I don’t want to be jumping around like the Energizer bunny for a month. This is my way of being Zen, or pretend Zen. Turning 29 in Bali, I can think of worse things I can do on my penultimate birthday before the big 3-0. Ha! If you hadn’t guessed, this post has no real purpose than to release some of the energy that surged through me upon waking up and looking at the date. So, my fellow travellers, help this girl narrow down the “must” lists with your valuable suggestions and experience. Oh, and I’ll make sure to tag you in the photo on the iconic swing in Gili Trawangan as a thank you! 😀


 

As always, Happy and Safe Travels all!

When I’m Not Travelling…

When I’m not travelling, which is a lot, I feel a constant yearning to. I won’t lie and say I’m happy with this situation at the moment, I’d rather be out there experiencing someone else’s town or country. Well, if wishes came true that easily, we wouldn’t work for them as hard. Right? I know I’m going to tick those places off my Bucket List, and not out of obligation, but because I want to live those experiences. As Mary Anne Radmacher said, “I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” I haven’t yet seen the moon from the other side of the world, but I will. This I know. And I too will be transformed.

Though the main theme of this blog is travel, it isn’t the sole topic I write about here. So let me tell you what I’ve been up to while “grounded”.

I’ve been drawingPUB60COR


I’ve been cookingDesktop


I’ve been eating outDesktop1


I’ve been laughing at:

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Unfortunately, none of my friends got the joke.


Other than these picture-worthy activities, I’ve been saving up for upcoming travels, and kind of falling off the “no shopping” wagon a little bit. But then I always can justify it by putting it down to things I need for aforementioned travels. I’ve been working, working out, making plans, giving life a chance, and living. Life has definitely been busy, I’ve been travelling up and down to nearby cities quite frequently, journeys that are necessary but leave me feeling tired, hot and bothered. It is all for a worthwhile cause though, and though I’m brimming with excitement to share my news with the world, I want the ‘i’s dotted and ‘t’s crossed before I go around making announcements.

Oh and if you’re interested, you can check out more of my artwork on my FB page.

I hope you guys are getting in more frequent flier miles than I am. Where have you all been to recently? Let me know, at least I can live vicariously! 😀

Places and People – What They’ve Taught Me

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I have had the fortune to live in quite a few places in my life, not as many as I’d like of course, but then that’s just the itchy feet talking; they won’t be satiated I tell you! I have returned to my home state after more than 20 years of living in different places with only infrequent and abbreviated visits home. As anyone who has read my ‘About Me’ page knows, I’m not one who feels homesick much. Sure, I have my moments when I crave my childhood bed and the comfort of mum’s cooking, but not as much as “normal” people do, I think. So without further ado, the things I have learnt from living in, and visiting, different places:

1. Showing an interest in local culture will get you farther than sticking to your comfort zone. Especially in the initial days. Ask questions and listen without judging. Maybe their traditions delight you, or grate you. And that’s okay, no-one is asking you to adopt anything you don’t want to. Observe their way of life, take part in festivities, you might learn something along the way.

2. Eat local food. What better way to indulge than to dive in head first into the food of the land? The supermarket staples that you’re used to back home are always going to be there, but try the local fare, that’s what will introduce you to a new place fast. Be curious, be open, and unless it’s something that goes against your principles, give it a taste.

3. People are inherently kind. Okay, so not all are, some are just plain wary, and weary, of those who dress differently or talk differently. I’d suggest learning a few polite phrases in the local language, this is sure to get you a smile, even if you’re doing a terrible job at pronouncing the words correctly. They’ll mostly want to help you out, and it becomes easier as you’ve already shown an interest in their language.

4. Always dress appropriately. This goes without saying, but there is no easier way to antagonize the locals than to poke at their ideals. Not all countries or cities are the same. Within my country, I wear different kinds of clothes in different places, because: (a) It helps me blend in, (b) I don’t like being stared at, and (c) Dressing appropriately is the easiest way to ensure your own comfort.

5. Make friends with the locals. For many years, this was something I struggled with. Not that I was a loner, I always did end up making friends, but it was slightly painful because I was not very social. The best way is to greet people with a smile, even if it isn’t returned, smiling is good for you. And to be honest, most of the time, a smile is returned. The locals know the best places to shop, eat at, and basically chill, definitely not things you should miss out on.

6. Talk to people who are not in your age bracket. This is something else I was not very comfortable with in my younger days, but I’m learning. Talk to kids, teens, adults or the aged and you’ll get different perspectives of the same city, country or story. In my own country, the 20 and 30-somethings have a completely different outlook when compared to the older generation. It teaches you about the evolution of a society, of its people.

7. Life is nothing without variety. For those who are ruled by wanderlust, there is not much more exciting than planning their next trip. Often, we classify ourselves into beach people or mountain people, adventurous or laid-back, luxury travellers or backpackers, and for most of the time, this works. Once in while, it pays to mix things up though, there is so much the world has to offer!

8. Invest time. Not all of us are loaded (do I hear a rousing chorus of “hear hear”?) and we may not have means to splurge monetarily. That doesn’t mean one needs to be holed up inside watching reruns of sitcoms, there is likely many things in any given place that you can enjoy for free, or a minimal fee. Explore the history of a place, go to the parks, people-watch, eat street food – not too hard on the pocket, yet great for the soul.

9. Prepare for loneliness. This is a common factor for those moving to a new place, whether alone or with family. The utter novelty of everything can have you craving for the familiar, for the mundane. It’s normal to want the things that we are used to, the bend in the road that takes us to our favourite cafe. But don’t forget the possibility of finding a new favourite, a place that serves the best hot chocolate you’ve had yet, and how would you find it if you didn’t let go of what you used to know?

10. Be careful. This might seem a little contradictory to one of my previous little pointers here, but the term ‘better safe than sorry’ applies no matter where you are, even in your hometown. It is good to be optimistic, but not naive. Believing in the good of humanity is great, but one needs to be attuned to one’s gut instinct (we all have some leftover from our hunter-gatherer days). If it feels unsafe, get out of there is my mantra. Of course, if you’ve made friends with a few locals, dressed appropriately and found great hangouts, chances are you’re well on your way to enjoying the new city/country that you’ll call home for a while, or forever.

Do you guys have other pointers for moving to a new place? Anything I’ve missed out on? What have your travels taught you?