Sunday, December 29, 2013

Days 362 - 363: Friends, Dance, Fun and the Indo-Japanese Wedding!

28 - 29 December, 2014

What a fantastic two days, it was! I had an incredible amount of fun at what was probably one of the most happening weddings I have ever attended!

Firstly, it was the largest coming together of our "gang" for any wedding so far. It so happened that there was a grand total of about 12 of us at the wedding, which was a first. It was lovely to catch up with everyone over the two days and of course, to see our lovely Indian friend getting married to his Japanese sweetheart.

After much contemplation, I have concluded that the best way to write this post would be like a timeline (accuracy of time less and content more important!), just so that I don't miss any of the details that I want to preserve for years to come.

Day 1: 28 December

8:00 am - Woke up and got ready. The plan was to have breakfast, attend the morning functions which were to be held at the groom's house, get back and rehearse for a dance which we, the gang, is supposed to be putting up later in the evening at the Sangeet, and then attend the Sangeet. Anyway, to kickstart all of the above, we had to wake up and get ready and we did that.

9:00 am - Enjoyed the awesome spread and the sumptuous breakfast at the Marriot. If I remember right, I had everything from poha to bacon and masala chai to sweet yogurt. Yup.

10:00 am - Just as the hubby and I were done with our breakfast the rest of the gang trickled in and soon all of us were sitting around chatting away and extending the breakfast time. Over this conversation, we decided that we will start our dance rehearsal right after breakfast and then leave for the groom's house by lunch time.

11:00 am - Based on the above plan, all of us walked around the Marriot premises looking for a suitable location for rehearsal - one where we would have sufficient space for all of us to dance in.

11:30 am - After walking around the swimming pool and the lawns, as well as checking in on the ballrooms, we decided that we might as well practice in one of our rooms, thereby successfully wasting 30 minutes of precious rehearsal time. We proceeded to a room and squeezed in in whatever space available between the bed and the wall and started the "rehearsal". The "rehearsal" is in quotes because much of the time was spent on getting the music ready as well as convincing some of the shy folks that they too can and should dance. (I should mention at this point in time that the dance we were planning to perform to, is one from our university days. Four of us in the current gang, including the groom, had performed the same dance about 10 years ago in college! So a few of us were familiar with it but as for the rest, I had sent out the video of the performance from 10 years ago for their advance preparation, but can safely say that not a single person took a look at it.)

12:30 pm - We got through about 30% of the dance before it was time to leave for the groom's place for the functions and lunch there. There was a bus arranged to shuttle between the hotel and his house, and we dutifully ran through the dance steps even in the bus. By now, the whole gang was pretty enthusiastic about the dance. There were no more of "I can't" and "I won't"s anymore!

1:15 pm - We reached the groom's place and sat around watching the festivities, enjoying panipuri and other delicacies, taking pictures, taking a tour of his very lovely house (I especially LOVED all the paintings!), receiving gifts (sweets for all and jewellery for the girls!) and enjoying the Bangalore winter morning.

4:00 pm - We got back to the hotel and immediately started on our dance rehearsal again but not before ordering some masala chai to refresh ourselves. The rehearsals progressed beautifully this time. Everyone was pretty committed to the cause and within an hour, we wrapped the rehearsal and we were all set to burn the dance floor.

5:00 pm - We got back to our respective rooms, took some rest and then started to get ready for the Sangeet. I got into a lovely black churidar, courtesy my in-laws. Always trust them to get the best clothes for me!

7:00 pm - We went down to the poolside the lawns of the Marriott, the location for the Sangeet. Much of the evening was spent on clicking pictures, enjoying some of the yummy finger foods that were being served and carrying on with our never ending "catch ups". One bummer was that the hubby went down with a terrible fever and flu in the midst of it all. So he joined in late, but good news is that he tried his best to be part of the festivities and even managed to dance. The Sangeet was pretty fun. I was amazed at the quantity and quality of performances put together by the groom's family - it seemed like everyone, young and old, men and women, had all put in so much effort to put up the show and it was very entertaining. There was also a really cute skit on how the Indian groom met the Japanese bride, which was hilarious and extremely well made!

10:00 pm - It was our turn to dance! The 'gang' including me were pretty excited by now and were raring to dance! I gave a quick introduction first - that we had performed this piece 10 years ago and we are doing it again, dedicated to the groom, who was the star performer all those years ago. We went on stage and some of the more enthusiastic ones among us cheered ourselves on! And then we danced and had a blast!  We didn't care what the audience thought of it because we clearly were convinced that we rocked it! It was so much fun! The highlight was when the groom joined us and did his signature "helicopter" move, something which he had done in the original performance 10 years ago as well! Too cool! After our dance, the groom and bride (Japanese, let me remind you) burned the dance floor with their performance on "Dhinka Chikka". It was awesome and I went hoarse with cheering! I also felt good that they had learnt the dance by watching a video of a performance by the hubby and I, to the same song, at the hubby's cousin's wedding in 2011. I can honestly say that I never expected them, especially the bride, to be able to pick up the completely Indian tapori steps so well! So proud of them!

11:30 pm - Post the Sangeet, we grabbed a quick dinner and retired early for the night, mainly due to the hubby's ill health. By the time we went to bed, we had sent several self congratulatory messages on Facebook and Whatsapp about our own performance for the night. An extremely fun day it was!

Day 2: 29 December

9:00 am - After getting ready and having breakfast, we were all set for the Indo-Japanese wedding ceremony! I must add here that I, for the first time ever, wore a sari with pleated pallu, which was amazing because I managed to wear it so well! Sure, it took a really long time to get it right, but I am so proud for finally having draped one in that style! Really, So proud.

10:00 am - We accompanied the groom to the beginning of the baaraat (wedding procession), where he climbed on his vehicle for the day - a beautiful white horse. With much music and dancing, we accompanied him back to the wedding venue. The highlight was when the two "dhoti" wearing guys from the gang, started dancing to the very happening "Lungi dance" song. It was so much fun that I couldn't help but join doing the same moves with my sari (and my sari held through it all, which again, makes me so proud of myself!). Soon all the uncles and aunties from the groom's families were doing the lungi dance, which to me, was super duper cute!

10:30 am - I had spent a long time taking a ton of pictures throughout the baaraat as well as later and a friend and I started to upload these to a dedicated Facebook page live, which I thought was a super cool idea on his part!

11:30 am - My in-laws also joined the wedding and we had a nice time together watching the rest of the ceremony. We later proceeded for lunch together (lunch, especially the goan fish curry, mutton biriyani and rasmalai, were awesome!), I had a nice time catching up with a friend's parents who had also flown in for the wedding (and also to meet their son's girlfriend's parents ... you know, "officially"... so I had my fingers crossed for that lovely couple too!), we took the inevitable "group photo" with the groom and the bride on the "stage" and then it was time to say goodbye as most of the folks except me were flying out within today itself.

3:30 pm - As many of the "gang" took their leave and the hubby took some much needed rest in our room to get over his fever, one of my best friends from school (and also my partner in founding the unofficial die-hard fan club for Michael Jackson in Thrissur about 17-18 years ago), came over to meet me at the hotel. Over some pretty average coffee, we had a very much overdue and much needed catch up on our lives. It was heartening to see that we think exactly the same as each other even now, and it was absolutely terrific to have an opportunity to meet her.

6:00 pm - After the friend left, I decided that I will shop a bit in the mall next door. The shopping trip was, to put it mildly, disappointing. There was absolutely nothing there that caught my fancy but given that I spent about 45 minutes there, I got myself to buy a simple summer dress.

7:00 pm - The hubby and I had dinner together at a restaurant in the mall. Ever since he has been ill, there has not been much of "romantic Bangalore" anymore other than me ordering hot soups for him, so this dinner was a good final romantic activity before he returns to Singapore today and I return to Kerala with the in-laws tomorrow.

8:00 pm - The hubby took his leave for the airport, while I caught up with the groom and his mom (one of the most fun aunties I know!) in the hotel lobby. Oh, I must mention here that the groom was mighty pleased with all the pictures taken by yours truly this morning and he even mentioned that I should "copyright" them. Woah! Given that I have absolutely zero technical skills when it comes to photography, this was some really good compliment. Ego was duly boosted and a wide smile was born.

10:30 pm - A junior of mine from my school days came down to visit me. Given that it was late in the night and that she had to travel a lot to make it to Whitefield and that she had given up dinner with her fiance's family after some wedding shopping (she is getting married in a month's time), I think it was incredibly sweet of her to make so much trouble just to come see me! I had hardly known her in school other than as my friend's younger sister but thanks to Facebook, we had gotten to know each other a lot better in the recent past. It was lovely to meet her and have a long chat in person!

12:00 am - After seeing off the lovely young lady, I hit the bed, happy about all the fun I've had and even happier about all the wonderful people I have in my life. To top it all, just as I was about to doze off, the friend whose parents were to meet his prospective in-laws, messaged that all went extremely well between the two sets of parents and his wedding is very much on! That was the best news to end two very beautiful days with!

So happy!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Day 361: "Romantic" Bangalore!

Thus, after a day in Kerala, we were off to Bangalore, leaving behind the little one with her grandparents. The "leaving behind" turned out to be a pretty smooth process. We were expecting some high quality "please don't leave me mummy & papa!!!" crying, which....well..... didn't happen.

Nope, not even remotely. 

Instead, she decided that focusing on my mom's box of accessories was a much better activity. Just as well. 

So we - the hubby and I, were off to Bangalore! 

Now, naming this post "Romantic Bangalore" has nothing do with Bangalore being romantic. It is just that this is our first trip together after 1.5 years - the hubby and I alone, without the little one or friends or parents... and to me that alone was "romantic". We chatted all the way from the house till the airport, shopped together for books from the airport bookshop (they always have the best collection!), got ourselves chai and patties from the airport cafe, had a long conversation while savouring it, almost missing our flight in the process (see? romantic!), had another long catch up on the flight to Bangalore, got an airport cab and chatted away again while observing the sights and sounds of Bangalore, until we reached the hubby's aunt's place where his parents were also staying on a short visit. 

At the aunt's place, we had a really nice time catching up with everyone and also stuffed ourselves silly with a lot of awesome home cooked dishes (both aunty and uncle are great cooks and cooked a variety of southern Indian dishes and even Biriyani! They also made their own mojitos, which was just fantabulous!). 

Then the hubby and I took off on the last drive for the day - to the Marriot in Whitefield, the venue of the wedding. We checked in and was soon joined by the other friends who had also travelled in from various parts of India, leading to another round of catch ups and fun. 

Oh, we were also informed by my parents in Kerala that the little one had not one bit of separation anxiety through the day. Good news. 

Thus, day 1 in Bangalore came to an end. Tomorrow, the wedding festivities begin! 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Day 360: Kerala Phase 1 - Food's Own Country!

Like I mentioned here, our plan was to spend a couple of days in Kerala before the hubby and I would leave for Bangalore to attend a friend's wedding, leaving the little one with her grandparents. After the wedding, the hubby would return to Singapore while I would come back to Kerala, with my in-laws for phase 2 of the trip there.

But yes, for now, it is phase 1. This one day was pretty much spent on eating as well as visiting a few friends and family. Within a day, I managed to stuff in Kerala Porotta, Varutharacha Chicken Curry, Chilli Prawns, Egg Masala, Appam, Koorkka Upperi, Idiyanchakka (young jackfruit)Thoran, Ulli (shallot) Sambhar,  Vegatable Cutlet, Idli and Chutney. All this on top of a visit to our neighbour's house as well as trip down to Cochin to visit my uncles, aunts, cousins and super fun little nephew there.

So proud of myself!

I must also mention that I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful, breezy weather here which was a very welcome change from the super hot, sultry weather from March when I last visited. It was also fascinating to see the cute/cranky/intelligent/silly performances that the little one was putting up for the benefit of everyone around, especially her grandparents and great grandmother.

It was a great phase 1 for sure, next up is Bangalore!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Days 357 - 359: "Shilpa Vihar"!

23 - 25 December, 2013

In his last visit to Singapore, my dad had brought along an old sketchbook of mine, which dates back to my childhood (and I mean when I was about 10 or so). It was fascinating to see what used to catch my fancy those days. I had everything from cartoon characters to flora and fauna and landscapes and each sketch was accompanied by a very clear title e.g. "boy", "girl", "naughty boy", "duck", "good boy", etc.

Interestingly, one of the sketches was that of a pretty little house and this one too had a label. It said "Shilpa Vihar" which means "Shilpa Residences", "Shilpa's House" or something of that order. Clearly, that was the picture of my dream house and what I planned to name it whenever it were to happen in the future. 

Now, it is not that my family had no house of our own. We did have the good fortune to live in cozy, comfortable little home but I guess I was probably not fully happy with it at that point in time. And the reason was that I never had a room to myself. What I had was one that doubled up as my room, general study room, mom's wardrobe room, dad's books room, etc. etc. 

As I grew up, I think I started to care less about "my room" or the dream "Shilpa Vihar" and had completely forgotten about it by the time the sketchbook made its way to me after all these years. But what I did have in mind was to some day have a bigger house in my hometown - one which gave enough space to my parents, my grandmom who now stays with us and the hubby, the little one and I when we visit every year. 

And the work on this - a house that has enough space for all of us together - has been progressing for the past couple of years and is now almost completed. And I planned to visit my new home, or "Shilpa Vihar" as the hubby as been calling it ever since he saw the sketchbook. The idea was for all three of us to go check out the new place, then the hubby and I leave for a friend's wedding in Bangalore leaving the little one behind with her grandparents, then I come back to my hometown together with my in laws who will join me from Bangalore, spend a few days there and then return to Singapore with the little one.

In other words, there was a ton of planning and packing to be done. And that's exactly what I did during these few days. Making packing lists, packing, shopping, packing again, repacking because nothing seems to fit in the darn luggage, etc. etc.

And finally when all that was done, we made our way to Thrissur in Kerala, to see that house that my parents have been toiling to set up for so long (My involvement has been financial only while they have been designing and really pulling the weight that's required to be pulled for any construction of a new home).

My parents picked us up from the Kochi airport and soon we were there. The new house perched on a slightly elevated road, overlooking the Brahmaswam Madhom (a temple and a vedic institution, open to the public only once a year during Saraswati Puja) and its adjoining beautiful, serene pond. With a gorgeous view like that, this was already a perfect home in my mind but I was wowed when I walked through the indoors. The interiors (done by a professional interior decorator) had been done up beautifully and I was thrilled that they had even managed to frame family photos and line up on a photo wall. It was all so beautiful! And the best part - there was enough space... more than enough space in fact, for all of us together!

So there it was - after a gap of more than 20 years, "Shilpa Vihar"!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Day 356: Finally A Fantastic December Day!

I was really looking forward a day that felt like it was in December - relaxed, festive, happy! Thanks to work and all that, "relaxing" was not something that was happening and I haven't had an opportunity to take part in any festivities so far either.

But today, I felt like it was December. Finally! It was a perfect day. Like, P.E.R.F.E.C.T!

I had just completed the dub sync work until 2am this morning and then went to bed. I woke up late and after getting ready, the three of us - the hubby, the little one and I - set out for our Sunday outing - something that hasn't been happening in the last several weeks.

We went to our favourite restaurant Antoinette on Orchard road. We had a good lunch there while the little one made friends with all the service staff.

After lunch, we walked around in Orchard Road, soaking in the festivities, something that I have been wanting to do for the longest time! This is my annual ritual, something that I really love to do, and this year I wanted the little one to take a look at all the decorations and activities around the area as well.

And we could finally do it!

We walked a long stretch along the road, enjoying the Brazilian Samba Brucata music that was being played (which was AWESOME!), taking in the decor and all the different christmas trees, enjoying the beautiful cool, breezy weather and stopping for a drink at our favourite hangout place Brotziet - during which the hubby and I caught up over a nice long conversation as the little one dozed off. Also, in true tourist style, we even got a picture of us blown up on a huge LCD screen outside a building (it was some Samsung promotional thingy). How cool!

After that beautiful outing, we set off, with great excitement, to meet the baby boy a close friend had just given birth to a few hours earlier. We went to the National University Hospital and welcomed the little one to our world. Our little one also tagged along and had a momentary bout of jealousy when her mom, that is me, picked up the baby. It was pretty cute to watch!

Incidentally the hospital was in the campus of our alma mater National University of Singapore, and we were excited to be back on campus. We decided to have dinner there and walked to our regular hangouts from the yesteryears - the paratha shop at Abang.

As we entered - complete with baby, stroller and baby bag, the uncle and aunty who owns the place recognized us and made quite a deal about the fact that  we used to study there and now have returned with a baby! They told and retold the story to everyone who visited the place! It was so cute.. and really, a very interesting experience. All those years ago, I never would have imagined that I would be back there with a baby of my own! Phew!

Back home I had a long, much overdue, fun chat with the in-laws, after which the hubby and I once again set out for a short night walk to get a drink. The weather was simply gorgeous!

This was the December I wanted to enjoy! This was the holiday season I was so looking forward to!

I went to bed a really happy person. Wonderful day, indeed!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Days 351 - 355: From Good to Awesome!

17 - 21 December, 2013

In my last post, I had written about how the days have gone from being pretty bad to pretty good. Now in the last few days, I can safely say that the days have gone from pretty good to pretty awesome! Several awesome things have been happening:

1) The dub for Aravindum Aarumughamum is finally complete! It took staying up until 6:30 on friday night/saturday morning to get this done, but thanks to a cup of exceptionally good black coffee and a lot of humour and wit from the team even that late into the night, we managed to get through it. It took me another late night to complete the entire sync and edit of the dub but then... soon enough, we were done! And it felt awesome!

2) We, the culture team at work that organized the Christmas party, had a really nice celebratory lunch at the Ku De Ta restaurant in Marina Bay Sands. This was a gift given to us by the boss, for the good work ! The lovely atmosphere with the cool, breezy weather, the gorgeous views, the delicios Japanese bento set that ordered, as well as the fun conversation that flowed throughout, all made it a really nice experience.

3) I had  been pretty much stuck with the ideas for episodes of the Malayalam sitcom that I had started to write, but now I have a new thread in my mind. I haven't yet written it down, but this is already a great start!

4) I started to pack for the last and final trip of the year - back to India!

5) I finally started to feel that December is here! Work was easing off, mainly because nobody is around to not let it ease off; The work on the film at my end was finally pretty much done, I was beginning to think about the holiday finally (and panicking about the packing, if I may add) and I even managed to catch a Bollywood film, Dhoom 3, in the theatre. I was visiting the cinemas after three whole months... I don't think that kinda gap has happened ever before, but that's how busy it has been! It was great to be back... and I think I enjoyed the film more than anyone else. Sure, it has a mindblowing list of flaws, but just watching it for the performance of Aamir Khan and production design, was good enough for me.

6) I had two really good yoga classes!

7) Thanks to Youtube, I am still receiving messages from strangers on Mausams,even though the film is almost three years old now. Especially when I feel like I am in a rut with the dubbing or some other issue with the film, one such message quickly pulls me out and up and I feel like this is all worth it! Everytime this happens, I feel so thankful!

Nett, am an awesomely happy person! 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Days 341 - 348: The Bad & Then the Good!

What a rollercoaster ride it has been over the last few days!

On one hand, a lot of undesirable things happened -

a) A riot broke out in Singapore - something that hadn't happened in the last 40 years.

b) I had a messy presentation to the management.

c) The hubby and I had what's probably our longest lasting fight ever, probably because both of us are so overworked and stressed out.

d) The Singapore Air Force came and erased... and I repeat, ERASED all the footage we had shot over one morning (this was the reshoot of one of the scenes for Aravindum Aarumughamum). Their rationale - we were shooting too close to their base. And even though nothing was captured of their base in the footage, they chose to erase it. I did ask them to come and intervene a bit earlier the next time if they don't want shooting in that area, because really, letting us shoot for three whole hours and then coming and erasing everything is not really top notch consideration.

e) I worked past midnight 3 out of the 5 working days, and also had a work call until 8pm on Friday for good measure (yes, work is still crazy).

f) I was constantly suffering from dry, itchy eyes and a headache to go along.

Then things changed.

a) The day after the messy presentation, I gave another presentation - a real kickass one at that.

b) I was extremely saddened by the riot that broke out - especially since the ones responsible for it were my fellow countrymen from India, but then it was heartening to see that there was a lot of good discussion on how to improve the conditions of the labour class in Singapore so that these things don't re-occur. I was particularly happy to note that nowhere in my Facebook timeline did I see a xenophobic or racist comment - at least I know a bunch of good humans.

c) The hubby and I made up after the fight and to celebrate, we even hit a Bikram hot yoga class together. That used to be one of our very popular couple activities but we had not done it for almost two whole years now and to get back to it was awesome! Just like old times!

d) The location we ended up shooting that ill-fated scene in (we were shooting it for the third time now)  was not as nice as the earlier one near the air force base. But we had to make do with it and after hours of slogging in the hot sun, the shoot for Aravindum Aarumughamum was finally done. I guess I am happy about that, in spite of all the pain.

e) When I got home after the long day of shoot and reshoot, I recounted the day's experience to the hubby, in a rather animated manner. The little one caught a whiff that all was no well - her mother was clearly upset about some erased footage. So she came over and tried her best to console me - she patted my cheeks, hugged me, and laid her head on my chest and mouthed some words that sounded almost like asking me not to worry. It was the first time she had reacted to anything like that and my heart turned into a gooey emotional mush. I felt that all was indeed well with the world!

f) Then something awesome happened - The background score for Aravindum Aarumugham started to come in in bits and pieces and I absolutely, completely LOVE it! Suddenly all the frustration evaporated and I was reminded why I go through so much effort to make a film - clearly, I enjoy the process - yes, even including the downs!

g) I realized that I have overdelivered on every single resolution for the year 2013. I had a long list with very clear milestones to be achieved. I had very meticulously prepared it given that it was the first year of motherhood and am happy to say that I am very pleased with the progress. It was tough, but it was good. I plan to do a detailed entry on what the list had and how I fared - but that will happen at year end!

Am still rather exhausted and can't wait for a nice break, but in spite of that, I am genuinely pretty darn  happy!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Days 338 - 340: Subtitles, Dubbing and Sitcom Posters!

5 - 7 December, 2013

Crazy days of work continue but I am compensating by working equally hard on my hobby too.

1) I completed typing out the subtitles for Aravindum Aarumughamum. Given that the movie had a great deal of dialogues, this was actually not easy work, so I was happy to get done with it after 2 days of effort. They are still not synced to the film - that can be done only after the complete edit is locked, but this is good progress given that subtitling is not an aspect of film making that I particularly enjoy. So am glad it is done for now!

2) We kicked off the painful dubbing process for Aravindum Aarumughamum. Once again the great number of dialogues make this process quite painful but we don't have a choice. The live audio is pretty awful at several places thanks to the unexpectedly busy traffic and rains during the shoot. So dub, we have to. Luckily for me, I have a super fun team to work with. Given every meeting is a hilarious experience, even the painful dubbing process becomes less painful. We managed to do only 50% of what I had intended for this weekend, but I guess any progress is progress. At least the process turned out to be fun!

3) I had written here before that I was working on the script for a Malayalam sitcom. I had shared the scripts with an editor friend who in turn, asked a friend of his to sketch out a poster for it. The the first draft was sent to me today and I absolutely LOVED it! There are a few changes to be made but I was so excited to see a part of the sitcom come to life. I still have several episodes to write the script for, before I can even think of shooting but this is already so exciting! 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Days 329 - 337: Work, Edits, Teams, Late Night Decorations, Parties, Farewells and 200,000!

26 November - 4 December, 2013

I am having such a crazy time at work, it is not funny. Even as I write this am waiting for my next call to start - at 12:30 in the night! And it has been this way for a while... I hardly get time even to eat at work and only when am faint with hunger do I realize that I should be taking a break. But things are not bad, at least in hindsight. At least I feel like there is some progress there, which is always a good thing. But I can safely say that real happiness is coming from elsewhere. Here are some highlights from the last few days.

1) Except for half of 1 scene (there are 5 in total), the edit of Aravindum Aarumugham is completely locked (after my editor spending hours at it when I am at work and both of us reviewing it every night until late - and I mean like 5am even!). This is great progress and am very excited about how it has turned out. It even makes me happy in spite of the fact that I have to completely reshoot half a scene (ugh!). I felt pretty bummed out when I realized this, but what the heck. At least I have the other 4.5 scenes that am extremely thrilled about!

2) After completing the edit, I called over the team - mainly the two lead guys, and we watched it together. It was a real fun experience - to watch them watch themselves on screen, evaluating their performances and finally, thankfully, ending the day with fully beaming faces. I was over the moon that day, thanks to my little film that has come so well until now. There is still a ton of work to go - reshoot, re-edit, sound design, music, dub, subtitles, etc. But so far so good!

3) I managed to squeeze in a couple of parties into my suffocating schedule. One was a good friend's daughter's birthday party which was held in an indoor play area. It was my little one's first time to such a place and she was visibly excited. She couldn't get on most of the games since she was too young for them, but she did manage to sit down and drown herself in a ball pit. Initially she was a bit terrified to get into it but before we knew it, there she was... lying down surrounded by hundreds of balls with only her head peeping through! The party was also fun because I could meet a few mutual friends and have quick catch ups. Some of them commented that they are still reading this blog - God bless them for that - and it gave me enough encouragement to continue writing in spite of wanting to do nothing but sleep, really.

4) Another party was the Christmas party at work, which my good self had the opportunity to organize (yes, am turning into a chronic office party/event organizer!). This was quite a small but cozy affair held in a cafe in the basement of the Singapore Management University. We took over the whole cafe and had a lovely event involving tart making contest, mulled wine demonstration (I didn't even know there was something called mulled wine - it is something like masala chai - basically spiced wine with a few fruits in there and of course, I very imaginatively called it masala wine...also, it tastes awesome!), live music (thanks to a few talented colleagues), make-your-own-santa contest, playing with a hoola hoop that happened to come along as part of a secret santa gift exchange and some really good food! The whole event was put together with just five days notice, and I was quite happy with how it turned out. In appreciation of the work, the boss gave me and the team vouchers to go for a celebratory lunch at Kudeta. Not bad at all!

5) The Christmas party was preceded with a night of decking up the office with Christmas decor. We had streamers, bobbles, candy canes, little notes reminding everyone of the upcoming party, and even a fully decked up Christmas tree! It was a lot of work but I had an enthusiastic team and we definitely had immense fun!

6) After the edit was locked, my editor cum cinematographer finally took his leave and returned to his home in India. But we made the most of the last couple of days with "farewell dinners" at two of my favourite places - E-Sarn for Thai cuisine and Ichiban Boshi for Japanese cuisine. He is a great foodie as well and appreciated the food as much as I did. I wouldn't have been able to complete my film without the tremendous help from him and am so thankful for that. Until the next project!

7) I had taken quite a long break from exercising thanks to the shoot and editing. But am happy to report that as soon as the edit was locked, I got back to it. Feeling good!

8) I must also add that I am having work until ridiculous times at night. 1am on one day. 2am on another. And to be in office latest by 8:30am the next day. So what is good about that, you may ask. Well, the fact that I am actually going strong in spite of it. And am proud of that (OK, I might be turning into a bit of a workaholic, but that's the only way to get through this phase right now). This too shall pass.

9) And last but not the least, Inganeyum Oru Katha has crossed 200,000 views on Youtube! Who would have thought!

Tough days, but like I said, so far so good.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Day 328: Day 3 of Shoot - Temples, Muddy Paths, Cycles and Strangers Turned Actors!

Once again we woke up before dawn for the last and final day of shoot for Aravindum Aarumughamum. Honestly, I was already rather tired after the two hectic days of shoot and realized that I have maybe half the stamina as before. The before-dawn rising, the long day of standing in sun and the rain, the disturbed sleep at night thanks to the little one who kept waking up - all of it was taking a toll. But tired as I might be, I was still excited about the shoot because we were to be shooting in a few brand new locations today.

However the day started with a bit of a hiccup. We needed a cycle for the shoot and one of the team members were supposed to get my cycle from my house and bring it to the location in his car. As luck would have it, my cycle didn't fit in his car and he didnt have any of the clasps required to fix it to his car's trunk or roof. However, he said that he will find a way to get his brother's cycle down to the location somehow, because his place isn't too far away.

Fully assured by him, we made our way to the first stop, a temple. I asked for permission to shoot there which they kindly agreed to and we went around tip toeing and taking a few quick takes so as not disturb anyone else there. It was a great start to the day, starting with a shoot in the temple!

Post the temple, we went to the super pretty Punggol road, a bylane of which gave us our very important requirement for the day's location - a muddy, motorable path - not something that you see in Singapore often.

And we had some very interesting experience there.

Firstly, we were surrounded by dogs barking at us (at a safe enough distance thankfully). They came from the few sheds or warehouses that were in the area and were soon taken under control by their masters.

Then the friend who had gone to get the cycle told us that the new cycle also didn't fit in his car, so now he is gonna simply cycle all the way down (we are talking several kilometres). Meanwhile another friend who has been assisting in the production and also been helping out with the transport with his car,  had to leave for his workplace.  Which meant that we were about to be stranded on a muddy motorable path, in a remote location in Singapore, without even bus shelter to take cover from rain or sun, and more importantly nowhere for the cast to make their costume changes (which, until now, they were doing in the car) and with the only other team member with a car now cycling his way down.

So I did the only thing that could be done at that point in time. I called our dear cyclist to drop the cycle and come in his car instead. The poor chap was apparently half way down already and had to go back to get his car.

Soon we carried on with our shoot. Just as we were in the middle of it, I noticed an uncle pass by on a cycle. Then it struck me that maybe, just maybe, we could get a cycle from one of the warehouses for our shoot! I quickly got one of my crew to go check, and lo behold! He returned with a cycle, victorious!

It was a great relief!

Then we had to cross the next bridge - which was to find a suitable guy to ride the cycle in the scene. It was a cameo role which was supposed to be performed by the guy who had gone back to work. While we were wondering what to do about that since none of spectators we have for our shoot, consisting mainly of old Chinese uncles, were suitable.

And again, as luck would have it... two guys passed by us on a motorbike and stopped ahead on the path for a while. They were both Indians and I realized that one of them could easily play the cameo we wanted. Once again, I sent my crew member and this time too he returned back victoriously with my cameo actor!

What an awesome stroke of luck!

By late afternoon we had canned almost all the shots we needed, save the last few and moved to what was supposed to be the last and final location for the day - a marshy land also near Punggol. The guy with the car left to buy a few props and we continued with the shoot. Just as we were wrapping up the scene, it began to pour once again. And this time we were drenched. We used one umbrella to protect the camera and tried to keep all the four human beings dry in turn with the other spare one.

After a while the car came and took us away from there to another location also near Punggol, where we finally wrapped the whole shoot. After a few major "wrap up" speeches and such, we drove back from the location and treated ourselves to some great Indian food at Dawat Tandoor.

The evening was spent in uploading all the video, sorting them out, reviewing a few, looking at the behind the scenes stills, and generally feeling good about wrapping up the shoot. There is still a lot... and I mean a LOT of work - editing, sound design, background score, dubbing (the live sound was not up to the mark thanks to the heavy traffic), so on and so forth. But at least one - the key part - is over and am thankful for that!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Day 327: Day 2 of Shoot - Cameras, Rains, Transition Lens and Roads!

We set off from home again, early in the morning. Today was the big day of the steadycam shoot but as luck would have it, it wasn't really working the way we would have liked it to. The cinematographer had spent the whole of yesterday night trying to get it to work but it didn't.

We were picked up by our friends (also part of the cast and crew) as usual and we narrated the sad tale of the steadycam woes to them. It was then that one of them said he has a steadycam of his own and that we could pick it up on the way. That was such a relief!

Happily, we got to the location, with two steadycams in tow. Once we got there, the rest of us set up for the day's shoot while one chap tried to put together the new steadycam.

Shoot progressed pretty smoothly and eventlessly up until after noon when we stopped for a lunch break. A few us, including me, drove to the nearest McDonalds while the rest rested/waited/worked further on getting the steadycam right, back in the location (which, by the way, is still the same beautiful road and bus stops from yesterday).

Just as we reached McDonalds, it began to pour cats and dogs. We immediately called up the guys at the location to warn them of the impending rain, only to be told that the location is already completely drenched but they were all happy and safe under the bus shelters.

We armed ourselves with a ton of burgers and litres of iced Milo and got back to the location. The rain continued to beat down. Given that no shoot was possible anyway, two guys, including the cinematographer, decided to drop by the place that rented out the steadycam and figure out what's wrong with it. Looks like neither of the steadycams were really working the way they should. But I was thankful that with the thought of a spare steadycam at my disposal, at least I could complete the morning shoot in peace!

So as the two boys proceed with the steadycam task at hand, the rest of us waited in the location, waiting for the rain to stop and for the guys to get back. But it was a fun hour of waiting, when we discussed everything under the sun from movies to traditional artforms to world problems.

Soon the rain stopped, the guys returned, and we started to shoot again, now with the steadycam that seemed to work a bit better. We moved to a new location - the road right next to where we were basic -  a gorgeous, empty, long, straight stretch with a row of trees lining it on either side.

We had a wonderful time shooting there. Sure, the steadycam was tricky, clearly we were not masters of it and the sun also played tricks - hiding and appearing every now and then from behind the clouds, making a mess of our lighting.

We also had a really unique problem. When we did the final rehearsal two days ago and had a few photos taken, I noticed from the pictures that the leading guy's glasses (also, his prop for the movie) were extremely reflective, unlike the ones that I wear. So during the shoot, he had been wearing my glasses throughout to avoid this issue (at the risk of blinding him, of course). So far it had worked fine but in this new location, where he was supposed to be out of the shelter of the bus stop and walking in the sun, we realized that we had a really HUGE problem on our hands! My glasses had transition lens which turned dark with the sunlight. So every 30 seconds, we had to cut the scene, get the glasses covered, wait for it to get back to its normal clear state and reshoot. What a mess.

But still all of us were on a high. This was the final scene to be shot for the day and we were happy that we had progressed so far. After several takes, we finally wrapped up the shoot.

And then went to total madness mode. We decided to take over the road, stood in its very middle, with a few cars whizzing past us, taking pictures, dancing and giggling like teenagers. What fun!

We ended the day with a team dinner at a nearby food court, once again hurling ourselves into deep conversations on movies and what contributions we can make to the field. On the way back, we also dropped in at a temple to do the site recee for tomorrow's shoot. Being in that peaceful atmosphere was a good winding down to the day.

Another day of shoot, thus came to an end. Tiring but super productive and fun!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Day 326: Day 1 of Aravindum Aarumughamum Shoot!

So yes, finally the day was here. My much awaited shoot after a 2-year hiatus!

I was up at dawn, ready and fresh, had a quick breakfast that my kind helper prepared really early for me and the cinematographer, prayed, checked one last time on all the million bags of equipment, props and costumes that we were carrying, and finally made our way to the shooting location together with the lead lady and her husband (who also helped with the cinematography and production), who came over the pick us in their car.

I was pretty much a nervous wreck all through this because it had been raining cats and dogs throughout the night - together with a thunderstorm no less, and there was no signs of the weather clearing up. It was dark, gloomy and drizzling, even as we set out. The weather forecast also predicted consistent rain in every single part of the Singapore throughout the day. Awesome.

But as luck would have it and I thank God for that, by the time we reached the location (after losing our way and having to take a few detours) and set our equipment up, a couple of hours had passed and the rains cleared up. It was still dark with no sign of the sun but it was good enough to shoot. In fact, the location looked pristine in beautiful with its rain kissed look. I loved it!

Soon we were all set and the shoot began. And I found out that I will have a nightmare working the sound design for this film. When I had gone to the location on my site recee, there were hardly any vehicles and it was pretty quiet and nice. I was happy at the thought that I will be able to work with live sound, something that I always look forward to as it avoids the headache of dubbing and sound design to a large extend. But on this auspicious day of our shoot, there were vehicles left, right and centre - and mostly trucks at that. They made it a point to pass by making as much as noise as any vehicle could probably do.

It was disappointing to say the least, but given that we weren't left with much choice, we proceeded with the shoot anyway. Soon we felt like celebrities, because every passer by (there were a few) and every traveller in every bus that passed by (there were several) were staring at us wondering what was going on.

With three cameras on three tripods set up simultaneously with three crew memebers manning them donning caps, umbrellas and shades, clothes being changed on the side of the road (by the male cast, of course), cast and crew standing  in the middle of the road and running off just in time to save their lives from the rushing vehicles, we would have made quite a sight.

In the afternoon, it started to drizzle again, but it was just nice because we had begun to wilt in the sun which was now shining with all its might and we needed a lunch break anyway. Lunch mainly consisted of McDonalds burgers that were ordered to be delivered to the location as well as all the snacks that the cinematographer had brought over from India.

Post lunch we restarted the shoot and kept at it up until 5pm. By then we had canned three whole scenes and were well on track on our schedule. We packed up and got home to start the next set of work - recharging the batteries of the camera, copying all the files, doing a quick review, and packing everything for day 2.

By the end of it, I was thoroughly exhausted but I was extremely happy and thankful - for the weather that cooperated, for the great team I get to work with and for making so much progress on the shoot within one day.

Tomorrow we get back to the location for a more challenging day of shoot - the one that involves the steadycam!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Days 323 - 325: "Foreign" Cinematographer, Late Night Rainy Rehearsals and Steadycam!

20 - 22 November, 2013

A few significant events took place.

First, the cinematographer for Aravindum Aarumughamum, who happens to also be the editor for both Mausams and Inganeyum Oru Katha and will also be editor here, arrived from India - Complete with his equipments, a lot of sweets and a lot of gifts for the little one! This was the first time I have gotten someone to come down from another country for a shoot. I have done it before for Mausams - when I got both him as well as my music director to come down during the post production stage. But this time around, I felt that I need a little more help with the shoot given that my team has dwindled considerably since IOK with a few members settling out of Singapore for good. And also because this was my first "post pregnancy" shoot, I wanted it to be as painless as possible. And nothing beats having an expert cinematographer on the ground. Plus it is really cool to say that I flew down a "foreign" cinematographer!

So yes, he landed and we set off to work as soon as I got back from work. Which brings me to the second significant event - the last and final rehearsal for AA!

It was a beautiful rehearsal for a number of reasons - we rehearsed outside on the streets, as opposed to the claustrophobic confines of my home. The actors immediately began to open up a lot more than they ever had before - partially because of the outdoor environment, partially because of the fact that it was closer to the real location we would be shooting in and partially because the cinematographer was always following them recording or clicking pictures, which I believe made them feel more in character. We rehearsed all the way from 9pm to past midnight and half way through it began to rain. It didn't affect the rehearsal because we were under the shelter of a covered bus stop. On the other hand, it got the weather to be real cool and pleasant. We rehearsed and we went through the list of props and costumes one last time. It was a great experience - standing there in the bus stop, with the rain brought in by the winds, in the darkness of the night, directing my cast, going through the production details and seeing my film come one step closer to reality.

The third significant event was the arrival of the steadycam. I had never used one for any films before but this script demanded one. So after work on Friday, both of us picked up a steadycam from a really awesome camera equipment rental shop at Clarke Quay. The rest of the evening was spent on rehearsing with it - the cinematographer trying to figure out the balance and other technical details and me and the little one walking up and down the street outside our home for him to practice shooting with it. I can say that we got quite a few heads turned in the neighbourhood with the sight of a guy holding a weird looking apparatus with a camera, shooting a lady and baby walking up and down the street. But more than anything, I was excited that we were learning and incorporating one new technical aspect of film making with this project!

Finally we are all set. Tomorrow, we begin the shoot! 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Days 317 - 322: Storyboards to Babies!

14 - 19 November, 2013

Alright. A LOT is happening. I have probably written this already but we are shooting Aravindum Aarumughamum this weekend. And to me, it is a BIG deal. HUGE deal. HUMONGOUS deal. OK, you get the point. Over the last six days a lot of prep has happened. We had multiple rehearsals, I completed my usual hand drawn storyboard, I completed the moving stills-board (i.e. a video that puts together all photographs of the different frames we want to shoot, so that we get to see what the movie will actually look is just a more fancy version of the traditional static storyboard but one am very proud of having achieved), we have been through all the pre-production details including costumes, props and equipment, I put out an open call for help with production for the days and have got some response, I went through the shot breakdown multiple number of times, I tweaked and re-tweaked the dialogues during the short, the last few days were extremely happening.

That's on the movie front.

Separately, I went for a few yoga classes where my postures - which had fallen to be down right pathetic post the vacation - have now improved significantly.

Also, I am pretty much working double shifts now in office (thanks to the workload and also because my reportee is not around) but am happy because some progress, albeit very little, is happening on that front.

I also visited a good friend and her newborn - a darling little girl of just 9 days old! It was so wonderful to hold her in my arms (I completely hogged her and didn't want to let her go). I couldn't believe that my own little one was that little just a year ago! It was surreal. The little one who had also tagged along, was less impressed with the baby but was totally taken by my friend's dog. Both of them hit it off very well and she couldn't have enough of the "bow wow". I was extremely pleased that she likes animals and wasn't scared of them.

I also had my "celebrity" moment when a random stranger recognized me in the subway as the "girl in the Malayalam short film" that he liked so much. How flattering!

Nett, am super duper busy but am pretty happy. Most likely the next post will be after my shoot! Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Days 303 - 316: 14 Interesting Days!

31 October - 13 November

Today is November 13th. Which means I have not written any post for 2 whole weeks! What a bummer.

But in my defense, it has been a rather tough two weeks. As soon as we got back from Kashmir, I caught the flu and the husband caught the stomach flu. Just when we recovered, the little one caught the stomach flu. And just when she recovered, I caught the stomach flu! Yeah, it was messy. And I was completely spent after about 12 days of this sickness extravaganza.

But then beautiful things still do happen. Let me list out 14 good things over the past 14 days, just as a means of compensation.

1) Diwali - I was pretty sick during Diwali, so we weren't planning to do anything special at our place. But thanks to some encouragement and help from our helper, we ended up celebrating Diwali in style! All of us got dressed up, lit the lamps placed around the house, did some puja, ate sweets, took pictures and felt pretty good. Especially now that we have the little one, I really want to celebrate every festival, and am glad that we had our own small, beautiful celebration! We also attended Diwali parties at my brother in law's and a friends's places - complete with cards and other games, great food, lights and sparklers. Nett, it became a pretty good Diwali!

2) Winnings - Diwali became even more awesome because, for a change, I actually won a few rounds of Bingo (also called Tambola/Housie) and Teen Patti (a card game). My winnings are of the range of $6 - $15 only but as we all know,  it is about the experience of winning than the amount. I usually have terrible luck when it comes to these games and it felt great to be on the other side!

3) Hubby's office - The hubby, who is working in a startup that he has co-founded, had recently expanded his office. I had not been to the new office and just got an opportunity to take a look when we went there to perform a small Diwali puja. I fell in love with the walls in the brand colours, the bean bags scattered around, the ergonomic chairs and the excellent chococino from their espresso machine! It was all pretty awesome! His partner and family were also present and we had a short but nice time together, while the kids...they have a boy and we had taken our little one along as well.... had a pretty merry time themselves. It was fun!

4) Aravindum Aarumughamum team comes together - We were supposed to shoot the film end of this month but one of the lead actor's dad fell ill and he had to rush back to India. I decided to postpone the shoot but in a heartening turn of events, was asked not to do so, by the team including this particular actor. They encouraged me stick to the plan and committed to make the most of the time that we have, instead of postponing indefinitely. His  dad is better now and  we are sticking to the original schedule. We are no longer as prepared as we should have been by now, had things gone according to plan, but just the fact that the team believes in the project and wants to see it through, makes me super happy!

5) Ruth Prawer Jhabvala - She is my most recent literary discovery. I am always on the lookout for interesting books by Indian authors and came across a collection of her short stories and man, she is awesome! Turned out that she is not an Indian but only married to one, yet her stories set in India give incredible perspective on the way of life there and she has managed to capture so many of the nuances typical of the country! I am definitely going to look out for more of her works, but for now, thoroughly enjoying myself reading her "East into Upper East: Plain Tales from New York & New Delhi"!

6) Little one's final birthday celebration for the year! - Yes, her birthday celebrations are still continuing! We didn't really get to celebrate the event with our friends here in Singapore and hence, now that we are back from Kashmir, we decided to give them a "treat", Indian style. Even though the original plan was to treat them for brunch somewhere outside, our helper insisted that she wants to cook for the event and got me to invite everyone over! It was a rather nice gesture by her and I was pretty touched. She made Pulav rice, Gobi Kheema, Kerala style chicken curry, Aloo 65 and Baked yogurt! Everyone came over, showered the little one with gifts - including a gigantic soft duck that is now occupying half my living room, had lunch, sang "happy birthday" as we cut a really cute cake that I ordered last minute, played games and made it all very merry and happy. Thus, her birthday celebrations for the year came to an end with this last round of small, beautiful gathering! Wishing her many, many, many more!

7) Kitchen & Cooking - Cooking is a rather rare activity for me. But for the little one's birthday celebration, when the helper said that she would like to cook for everyone, I decided that I need to help out as well. So after a long hiatus, I was back in the kitchen and was given the task of making baked yogurt dessert. And I enjoyed that - figuring out the mix, decorating with different types of jams, packing it all up in tiny serving cups for refrigeration and finally serving them all with relish, all under her able supervision, of course. Post baked yogurt, I even grated a ton of cauliflower for the gobi kheema, which made me feel like a pro! Totally awesome!

8) A good cause - I managed to raise some funds for a family back in my hometown. The husband is suffering from kidney failure and requires transplant and the wife is the donor. This puts them in a pretty tough situation with both being out of job, with three kids and hefty bills to pay and debts to clear off. When my mom told me about this, I did my best to spread the word and collect some funds to help them. I guess one is supposed to do these things selflessly but I would be lying if I say that it didn't make me feel good. Because, it did.

9) Kashmir blogs - Even though I was sick, I did manage to write the blogs on the Kashmir travel in detail. Initially I was planning to put a couple of pictures and get done with it, but then decided against it. That gorgeous place deserves every bit of writing about it and am glad I took that trouble. Now all the details could be forever remembered. Also, after reading the blog, quite a number of people said they will be planning trips to Kashmir and that makes me happy, because the locals thrive on tourism and due to the tensions in the region, are in quite a bad situation. So the more tourists, the better for them!

10) Yoga record - Including what I managed over the last couple of days, I have now done 60 days of yoga this year, which is kind of a personal record for me! The previous highest was 59 in 2011. I know 60 doesn't sound like a lot but each yoga class takes 3 hours including commute, so am glad I managed so much.

11) Exercise record - This also brings the total number of days I exercised this year to a grand total of 150 - 50% more than my target and 20% more than my highest annual number ever! I will do another check at the end of Dec, but I already feel pretty good about this.

12) Lost a kilo - am not sure whether it is the effect of the exercise or just the sickness, but looks like I have dropped a kilo. Even though am no longer too hung about the extra weight am retaining post pregnancy, it felt good when the scale showed an unexpected drop. Let's see how long this will be maintained!

13) Little one's tricks - The little one is becoming quite an entertaining person to watch every day. She goes into these melodramatic acting sequences - it is like watching a Tamil movie from the 70s. She screams, stretches, quivers, pops her eyes, rolls over, sticks her tongue out and end it all with her toothless grin. She has also now figured out how to use the iPhone and iPad - switching the main button, swiping it on, glancing through the pictures, playing games and so on. I never thought that it would be this fascinating to watch kids on their discovery journey. She also imitates every single thing - if I "shush" her, she does the same to me. If I talk on the phone, she pretends to talk on the phone. If I pretend to go into an uncontrollable fit of laughter, she will go into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. What fun! Plus her first words are out - "amma", "ta ta", "nah".

14) Transcendental Meditation - And last but not the least I have discovered transcendental meditation. This simple but rather fulfilling method has really got me hooked! Hoping that it would turn into a regular practice now.

And with that - I conclude on the last 14 days. I was sick through most of it, but it definitely wasn't bad at all. Thank God for that!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Day 302: Winding up the Celebrations!

It was time to wind it up in Kashmir and head back to Singapore. How blue! I absolutely didn't want to leave this gorgeous place.

But even then it wasn't really a bad day. Some highlights.

a) Waking up to the magnificent views one last time. Today the mist was much thicker and it gave the valley and lake below, a look that bordered on eerie. I loved it!

b) Having another round of elaborate, sumptious breakfast at the Taj Vivanta, our last big family meal together on this trip.

c) Having the little one cheer us up with her super upbeat mood for two whole hours when we got stuck in a terrible traffic jam in Delhi. While the rest of us were sweating and swearing in the heat and pollution, she seemed to have a  ball. Surprising and delightful!

d) Watching pre-Diwali fireworks in Delhi during our transit, and exclaiming that it was yet another celebration of the little one's birthday! (Yes, growing up on a staple of Indian films has indeed made me rather cinematic).

Thus her birthday celebration came to and end. It went off exactly the way I had wanted it to be. Simple yet special with our favourite people in a beautiful location.

Here's wishing her many more beautiful returns of the day!

Now we are off to Singapore!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Day 301: Shankaracharya Temple, Shalimar Bhagh, Kashmiri Wazwan & Birthday Celebrations!

The little one turns 1 tomorrow, on the 30th. But given that we would all be travelling back to our respective places tomorrow, we had planned to celebrate her birthday today, as a way of ushering it in.

So early in the morning, she got dressed in her traditional silk skirt and blouse from Kerala, complete with bangles, bindi and hairband, all courtesy of my parents. After sufficient fussing over her new makeover and going overboard with the phototaking, we treated ourselves to the lavish breakfast at Taj Vivanta. They had everything from North Indian to South Indian to Continental Cuisine and we stuffed ourselves silly. 

Then we set off to explore Srinagar, our first stop being the Sri Shankaracharya temple situated on top of a hill. The car dropped us at the parking lot at the top but then it required climbing another 275 steps or so to reach the shrine on top. That wasn't easy at all but well worth the trouble! The temple was quaint and peaceful and offered majestic views all around. It was breathtaking and I felt an overhwelming sense of satisfaction being there. I felt like it was the perfect start to my little one's brand new year on planet earth!

After our prayers and the taxing climb back down, we were off to our next stop, the Mughal Gardens or Shalimar Bhagh. Spread across a huge area, the garden was a visual pleasure. I loved looking at all the flowers and trees, of various colours, shapes, sizes, and also the different architectural structures they had along the way. The only downside was that all the fountains were under maintenance and hence not functioning. That was a real pity because I think they would have given the place a whole different charm. 

Soon we found ourselves shopping away in the market right outside the garden. I must add here that our luggage overflowed by the time we were on our way back to Singapore - the shopping was simply irresistible! They had such gorgeous stuff - be it clothes or accessories or handicrafts - and that too at such unbelievably cheap prices that it was hard to control ourselves. 

After the morning's outing, we felt a desire to have typical Kashmiri lunch and we went in search of a restaurant called Mughal Durbar, which was recommended for its authentic Kashmiri cuisine. There all we did was ask to be served "something Kashmiri" and they suggested to try the Wazwan - the Kashmiri version of a "thaali" or a spread of different dishes served with rice. The Wazwan came with a special type of rice and several, and I mean SEVERAL, types of mutton and chicken. And all of them were so awesome! I don't think I have consumed so much meat in one go ever before, it was insane! 

The Wazwan made us all heavy and sleepy, so we decided that we will spend the rest of the day back in the hotel. After all, the hotel itself offered quite a bit to explore and look at. Back in the hotel, I attempted a bit of packing in preparation for tomorrow and then all of us spent the entire evening walking around its grounds, taking pictures and enjoying a cup of masala chai each, as we watched the sun go down beyond the Dal lake and the mountains. 

The lake looked absolutely still with not a ripple disturbing its serenity, the mountains were covered in a veil of mist, and the sun's rays changed the landscape from yellow to deep orange to crimson hues, as it went down the horizon. The beauty was surreal. The peace felt within was unforgettable. I am in love with this place. 

Then the official 1st birthday celebrations began. First we had cocktails in the bar at the hotel. Rather, the rest of them had cocktails in the bar while I watched over the little one who readily fell asleep in the room before we could step out. Once she was up after her nap, we too joined the rest of them at the bar. And by "joining them", I mean that I ran with the little one, all bundled up in layers and layers, through the dark and in the super cold, through the gardens of the hotel, up until the bar. That itself was an amazing experience. She and I both enjoyed it thoroughly! 

Once I had my share of the cocktail party, we proceeded to the Chinese restaurant at the hotel, for the rest of the celebrations. I had ordered a cake for the little one and once that came by, all of us sung her her "Happy Birthday" song, much to her amusement, and then the hubby and I blew the candles on her behalf and let her eat some cake, much to her delight! Then the grandparents gave her cake and my mom-in-law made her wear a tiny little gold ring. Apparently she herself had worn that ring when she was this young... how cute! Then she and my dad-in-law recited a poem each that they wrote for the little one, which she, like a good girl, listened to intently. Overall, it was a small, beautiful ceremony, just the way I had wanted it to be! 

After the lovely celebration and a good Indian Chinese dinner, we got back to our rooms and found a nice surprise awaiting the little one - a room full of balloons, courtesy the Taj Vivanta! It was wonderful! 

Thus my little one turned a little less little, amidst a lot of love from her beautiful family, in one of the most beautiful places on the planet! It was perfect! 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Day 300: Apple Orchards, Taj Vivanta, Dal Lake, Shikara Ride, Floating Market & Houseboat!

This morning we made our way to our last destination on this holiday - Srinagar.

On the way we first stopped at the apple orchards we saw on our way to Pahalgam. We walked through the orchards, bought a lot of apples (needless to say they were really juicy and delicious, right off the trees!), entertained a few local little boys who tried to a sell us a few apples and when we did, they looked absolutely on top of the world!

After that short stop, we drove straight to Srinagar. We had been through the outskirts of Srinagar a few times on the way to Gulmarg and Pahalgam and it was like any other Indian city - crowded, dusty, polluted with the constant honk of cars. However as soon as we approached the famous Dal lake - the 18 sq. km big stunning lake with calm, serene waters - the atmosphere was drastically different. The traffic was much less, and there didn't see to be too many buildings around. All we could see was the vast expanse of the water with the quintessentially Kashmiri shikara boats drifting elegantly on them, the marvellous mountains behind, a few far flung pretty fountains in the water, and beautiful chinar trees lining them at the banks. This was the Kashmir we had always seen in the movies and we felt like we were in one!

Our plan was to first check in to our hotel and soon our car took a diversion and went up a hill that continued to offer beautiful views of the Dal lake. There didn't seem much else on the way up the hill and I could sense the confusion the parents were feeling because they had no idea where exactly we were headed to. At the top, we approached a huge gate with a lot of security guards who asked to search the car. Due to the tension across the border in the state, we had been seeing a lot of army vehicles and men over the last few days but we never had to go through any checking ourselves till now.

"This must be a premium hotel", my mom in law commented, wondering at the formidable gates and the excessive security checks.

Then I thought it was time I broke the well kept secret to them. "We are staying at the Taj!", I exclaimed and added, "SURPRISE!!!"

This was met with wide eyes wonder and joyous exclamations from all the parents, something which I absolutely LOVE to see!

You see, the Taj chain of hotels is probably the most prestigious and luxurious in India and of course, it comes with a rather luxurious bill as well. So it is not the place of stay usually under consideration for my family and myself. But given that we were in Kashmir to celebrate the little one's first birthday, I wanted the so-called finale to be as special as possible. Plus whenever I have the privilege of staying in a 5-star hotel on my business trips, I always think of the parents and how they should also have the same opportunity as me. And this felt like the best time to make that opportunity come by.

So yes, I had booked the place but kept mum about it and revealed it only right there inside the car as it was being screened outside the Taj Vivanta, and was pretty thrilled at the reaction it garnered!

After the check, a very excited bunch of us, were dropped off in front the hotel. We got out of the car and our jaws dropped. The hotel has been constructed on a standalone hill and it offerend magnificent views of the mountains and the valley and the Dal lake all around. It was astounding! I had a general idea from their website that the location was good but nothing prepared me for the beauty that we were facing standing there!

We were warmly welcomed inside and as we waited for the check-in procedures, we were given hot cups of Kashmiri Kehwas. Then we were taken to our rooms - and once again we got astounding views all around! We were also wowed by the facilities in the hotel, especially the infinity pool that seemed to melt into the Dal lake and mountains beyond. Indescribable!

We checked in to our wonderful rooms, each with the same stunning views of the lake and the mountains and also a cute private balcony and garden to walk into. It was so perfect. And the parents' excitement was even more perfect! I felt on top of the world!

After hanging out for a while, we reluctantly left the hotel for the activities of the day. We drove down to the Dal Lake and were met with a representative from my dad's contact's office. He put us in the shikara boats - one couple per shikara - and soon we were being rowed away in the quiet waters of the Dal. It was so peaceful and picture perfect!

As we bobbed along, we were approached by moving shops - i.e. other shikaras selling everything from dry fruit ice cream to expensive wooden handicrafts to well, photography services, but of course.  Soon we were licking away ice cream even in that cold, posing to pictures, buying souveniers, and having a ball. We also caught our first sight of rows and rows of the famous houseboats of Kashmir. Unlike the ones in Kerala, these are stagnant and don't move about in the waters, but they were still lovely to look at!

We were taken to the floating market called Mina Bazaar which are basically shops inside houseboats. As the hubby and I waited out in our shikara with the little one, the parents went into one of those shops to check it out. As we waited, we could see the non-motorable villages behind the houseboats and the lives there. Apparently boats are their only mode of transportation and in winter when the Dal Lake freezes over, they can walk across too. What lives!

After Mina Bazaar, we were dropped at the Dawn houseboat where we planned to have dinner. Our dinner orders were placed in advance, since that's the only way to get food in a houseboat if you are not staying there because they don't function as regular restaurants. We were not staying in one but we definitely wanted to visit one and experience it, so a dinner it had to be.

We got to the houseboat earlier than what had been estimated, so we had some time to explore it as the food got ready. And we made the most of it! We walked around and looked at every detail in the houseboat - the Kashmiri carpets and furnishings, the cozy bedrooms, the spacious washrooms, the small library, the games provided, the unique combination of Kashmiri and western crockery, and even the makeshift garden outside. After sufficiently exploring, we sat on the balcony outside and watched the sun set across the Dal lake, reflecting golden rays off the mountain peaks. It was a wonderful experience!

Dinner was a tasty, homely affair in the beautifully furnished dining room. There were both vegetarian and non vegetarian dishes and we were pretty happy with the quality of food as well as the service by the two boys who manned the houseboat. Post dinner, we got back into our shikaras and made our way back to our vehicle across the Dal lake. Interestingly, the photographer from earlier today rowed besides us and handed us our copies - pretty awesome service, I must say!

The sun had completely set by now and the temperature had dipped several points. So we were now on a shikara ride in the pitch dark in the middle of Dal lake - yet another beautiful experience! I hugged myself and looked up at the skies and thanked God for making it possible for me to be right there, right then.

Back at the hotel, we once again marvelled at its magnificence, this time seen with lights.

When I hit the bed an hour later, I was a very, very happy person! 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Day 299: Kashmir ki Kalis, Chandanwadi, Betaab Valley & Aaru!

I woke up to the gorgeous views of the mountains beyond our lovely hotel Woodstock in Pahalgam. The first thing I did was to take a whole lot of pictures to capture the sparkling peaks as the first rays of sun hit them. What a sight to wake up to!

After freshening up and breakfast, we walked in the gardens around our hotel, up until the Pahalgam river which was flowing at just a short distance away. As we walked around taking the spectacular views and enjoying the lovely weather, we had a few photographers asking us whether we would like to get our photos taken. We pointed out to them that we had our own cameras and then they pointed out to us that they have the kashmiri traditional costumes for us to try on as they take our pictures.

Both my mom and mom-in-law were immediately sold and after some persuasion so was I. Soon we found ourselves dressing up as Kashmir ki Kalis (literal translation being "blossoms of Kashmir" but is used popularly to describe their women).

It was nice to get dressed in the costumes and well, absolutely hilarious to pose under the direction of the photographers. It was no less than the cheesy photoshoots at Indian weddings where the bride and groom need to look into a distance, at each other with love overflowing in their eyes, pointing at something in the sky and gazing at it, etc. etc.! Fun experience indeed, especially since all three couples were subjected to this!

Post the photoshoot, we took off on our excursions for the day, our first stop being Chandanwadi, the starting point for the Amarnath trek. Amarnath is a rather sacred pilgrimage spot and every year thousands of people make their way there by foot, on ponies or in helicopters. It is about 40+ kilometres from Chandanwadi which is the last motorable stop before the trek begins.

Our drive to Chandanwadi was uphill offering spectacular views of the mountains, the valley and the Pahalgam river and getting all of us to coo "oohs" and "aahs" at every turn!

At Chandawadi, we were approached by a couple of guys offering their services as guide and babysitter. We took on their offer and started to walk along the path towards Amarnath. We were not planning to make it to Amarnath of course, but we were promised a few interesting sights. The babysitter was quite adept at handling the little one who looked most comfortable with him through the trek. Huffing and puffing we walked for a while, occasionally energizing ourselves with a mouthful of the Bhelpuri that we bought from one of the many tiny stalls at Chandanwadi.

One of the fascinating sights on the way was the lone tree standing on top of a really high hill, which is supposed to be the last sign of vegetation before Amarnath. Apparently beyond that tree the terrain takes a dramatically barren look!

We soon reached a spot from where we could see, on the other side of the river, what they claim to be the Pandavas' Hut. Pandavas, the heroes from the epic Mahabharata, apparently had stayed in that hut a few thousand years ago. We had the choice to get to the hut but that involved crossing a raging river on a single tree log put across and climbing up another hilly terrain. We didn't feel like we had the energy to do that so we decided to just stay put on this side of the river. After spending some time on the boulders along the river taking a few pictures and taking in the scenery, we made our way back.

After our short but tiring walk, we refreshed ourselves with a round of Kashmiri Kehwa in one of the small shops at Chandanwadi during which we also got a close look at the Kashmiri Kangri, the coal baskets that the locals carry below their coats for warmth during winters. We got a demonstration of how the Kangris are carried - with both hands if they have nothing else to hold, with one hand if they have something else in the other, between their legs if both hands are occupied! Fascinating!

Our next stop was Betaab Valley which, as the names suggests, is a valley that's been named after a famous film shot there, Betaab. That was a lovely place too. Huge open lands, lines and lines of trees which are now shedding their leaves indicating the onset of winter, the beautiful river flowing through it, the lovely bridges and paths and cafes that make them pretty tourist friendly. We had a nice long walk through the place and then when we were all tired, took refuge in a cafe where we all ordered hot maggi noodles.

After the much enjoyable maggi, we set off on our last excursion of the day, Aaru. Aaru is a village in a very another direction from Pahalgam, and from what I understood, a popular trekking destination. The roads to Aaru were pretty treacherous - narrow, steep, with several hidden turns and with a few heavy vehicles using them which made it all the more nerve wrecking. But what we saw was very well worth it. Stunning landscapes, lovely little villages, valley with the roaring river, forests, peaks, snow, monkeys (huge ones!), etc. etc. etc. It was indescribable beauty and all of us were spell bound, to say the least.

We didn't get off at Aaru because it was beginning to get dark and we had to make our way back to Pahalgam along the same difficult route. However we did take a photostop along the way at the most stunning of all viewpoints.

There were definitely a lot more other spots that deserved more time - indeed, Pahalgam requires more than the couple of days we had given it for a thorough exploration, but we had to be happy with what we had. This alone has given a lifetime of memories!

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was dark. But we immediately set off for another round shopping at the market next door. This time it was not just my dad and I but our entire gang. We pretty much checked out every single shop on both sides of the street and got back to the hotel with several bags of our spoils!

Thus our trip at Pahalgam came to an end. Tomorrow we will be off to our last stop on the trip - Srinagar! 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Day 298: Saffron Belt, Apple Orchards, Kashmiri Villages & Pahalgam!

This morning after another round of heavy breakfast and bidding an extensive farewell to Gulamrg (in way of more photo taking and saying byes to the good people at Hotel Alpine Ridge), we started on our way to our next stop, Pahalgam.

Pahalgam was a good 130kms away from Gulmarg, which meant that we made multiple stops on our way.

The first one was at a shop where we bought ourselves Kashmiri Phirens - their woollen loose kurtas for women.

Then as we passed by the area called the Saffron Belt of Kashmir - where the most common sight was that of fields and fields of the beautiful little lilac coloured saffron flowers. We made another stop to buy fresh saffron stigmas that's a popular spice in Indian cuisine. And while we were at it, we also bought a lot of dry fruits that the region was famous for.

Then we passed by an area where we saw rows and rows of shops selling... well, cricket bats! That was kinda unexpected but we were told that most cricket bats are made from the Kashmiri wood and they come in all kinda price ranges. But no, we didn't buy any cricket bats.

Then we passed by acres and acres and acres of apple orchards. It was so fascinating to see the abundance of the apple trees bending over with the weight of the huge apples they were carrying. We decided to make a stop there on the way back and for the time being kept on with our drive.

Then we passed through typical Kashmiri villages with small tin roofed duplex houses, wooden shacks, little shops,  narrow paths and huge stocks of wood piled up in every corner, in preparation for the impending harsh winters.

Soon we were driving right beside the Pahalgam river. In spring, the river would be overflowing and apparently a lot of white water rafting is done there, but right now, the water levels are low and we could see a lot more of the rocks and riverbed. Still it was a spectacular sight. The raging river, the quaint houses at its banks, the mountains beyond.

Our hotel Woodstock was right next to the small market in Pahalgam and we checked in to our spacious rooms on the third level that offered amazing views of the mountains. There were no lifts in the hotel but we still chose the top floor rooms just for the view! Luckily for us, the staff were extremely accommodating and they offered to serve all our meals in a function room on the same level than making us climb up and down the stairs to their actual dining room for every meal. How nice is that!

We sat around for a while in our rooms, taking in the gorgeous views, then had a rather late but very-heavy-to-compensate lunch.

The rest of the folks were tired post the long drive in the day, but my dad and I decided that we must step outside and explore the market even though the sun had set and it was rather cold. We wanted to "experience Kashmir in the cold, cold night." So, wrapped in layers and layers, both of us set off for our exploration. We discovered some really cute shops that sold woollens at excitingly low prices and we made the most of it with a lot of shopping! My favourite spoils were the two Kashmiri ponchos that we got for the little one.

Back in the hotel, we displayed our purchases to everyone which got them super excited. All of us promised ourselves to make a thorough exploration of the market tomorrow and then, turned in night for the night.

Another beautiful day in Kashmir comes to an end!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Day 297: Gondola Ride, Trial Ski, Kashmiri Kehwa & Sunshine Peak!

Today we set off to explore Gulmarg. After a short walk through the pine lined paths and along the beautiful meadows of Gulmarg, we reached it's most popular attraction, the Gondola. The Gondola makes two stops - Phase 1 at 7000 feet and Phase 2 at 13000 feet.

There was some confusion regarding the tickets due to the temporary shutdown of Phase 2 for maintenance, and we made most of the waiting time by refreshing ourselves with the heavenly Kashmiri Kehwa - a hot sweetened tea laced with saffron. This easily turned out to be my most favourite beverage on the trip. Just as we were done with the Kehwa, we were informed that the Phase 2 is open after the maintenance and we finally made our way up on the Gondola.

It was a fascinating ride presenting gorgeous views of the valley, the coniferous vegetation as well as unexpected appearance of shepherd's villages of thatched huts. We went straight to Phase 2, as recommended by our guide because the tickets were time bound.

At 13,000 feet, needless to say, the views were spectacular. I don't think my vocabulary is strong enough to give it an apt description, so I won't even make an attempt. Let's just say that I went "WOW" and kept "WOW"ing for the rest of the time we were there. I would have clicked about a 100 pictures just at the top and couldn't get enough of it.

For most part of the year, the whole of Phase 2 is covered with snow. But given that we were there just before winter, we could see no snow as we entered Phase 2, at least not anywhere near the Gondola station. So when the guide asked us whether we would like to walk up to the area covered with snow, we jumped at it. Armed with rented snow boots, we walked after him for about 5 minutes and suddenly found ourselves surrounded by snow covered terrain! It was so thrilling!

There we were told that there is an opportunity to do trial skiing. Basically the snow wasn't deep enough to try out skiing on our own but we could piggy back the professional skiiers and do a "trial ski". We were a bit hesitant at first because the terrain looked pretty steep and there were boulders jutting out here and there. But then we saw an old Indian aunty in sari doing the trial ski and then we had no further excuses to make. The hubby and I signed up for it.

Honestly, the trial ski wasn't as simple as what that Indian aunty made it look like. Firstly it required us to trek down a steep terrain to get to the skiiers. Then each of us had to tag on to a skiier. And by "tag on", I mean balance on his skies with absolutely no buckles or belts or clasps. We were only to loosely hold on to his t-shirt while ensuring that our feet never came off the skis. When he picked up speed, it required all my sense of balance to stay intact. We get to do the ride two times each, where we are taken from one end of the snow covered terrain to the other. The good news is that I managed to go both ways without falling off the ski. I must also add here that the hubby did fall off on both ways, which initially made me feel like a superhero. But then, given that he wasn't doing much skiing anyway, the ski folks helped the hubby take a LOT of pictures in and around the snow area, which then ended up making me feel jealous that he has more gorgeous pictures than I do. Oh well.

Anyway, in a nutshell, the trial ski was an amazing experience. I loved the adrenalin rush, the precarious balancing act, the wind in my hair as we picked up speed, the absolute peace and quiet I experienced when I was dropped off in one corner after the first ride - all by myself with only the stark blue skies above and beautiful valley beneath me, I even loved the breathless climb down and back up from the ski area, getting my legs go deep into fresh snow! One amazing experience, indeed!

In case you are wondering what happened to the little one all this while... well, we first outsourced her babysitting to our good guide and then later she was taken over by the grandparents. By the time we completed our trial ski, she was looking a bit groggy probably from the thin oxygen and low atmospheric pressure at this altitude, so we quickly got back down to base Gulmarg, without stopping at Phase 1.

While the rest of them waited for our taxi, my dad and I walked up to the hotel first to place order for the little one's food. We trudged up the hilly terrain, walking past ponies and shepherds and relived our trekking memories from three years ago!

Back at the hotel, we had a really good lunch after which I insisted that we go and explore this little tea shop I saw on our way to Gulmarg from the airport yesterday. What was special about this tea shop was that it was perched on a cliff overlooking a stunning view of snowcapped mountains, and the spot, as informed by our driver, was called Sunshine Peak. I badly wanted to sit in that tea shop and have a cup of chai.

One not-so-nice thing about Gulmarg is that the pony owners there can be pretty aggressive. I had read about this on various travel websites before the trip and we got a dose of it ourselves. When we tried to take our vehicle out they stopped us and said that we were only allowed to take ponies within Gulmarg. When we tried to explain that we were going outside Gulmarg to Sunshine Peak which was a good 6-8 kilometres away and hence not conducive for a pony ride that late in the evening, they said well, we could do so "at our own risk". Wow. My dad immediately called up his contact, the magistrate of Gulmarg for help and before we knew it, we were driving towards Sunshine Peak complete with police protection! Brilliant!

And at Sunshine Peak, in that lovely little tea shop, I got my much desired cup of chai against some spectacular Himalayan backdrop. It was perfect!

Back in the hotel, we rested for a while, got ourselves warmed up with a hot cup of soup each and then turned in for our final night in Gulmarg.

So far, am loving it here in Kashmir! Tomorrow, we make our way to Pahalgam.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Day 296: Delhi, Srinagar, Gulmarg!

After a rather eventless redeye flight, we got to Delhi. We were picked up by a cab and dropped off to join my in-laws, who had gotten here the day before and were staying over at a friend's place. They immediately took to pampering the little one and it was lovely to see their excitement!

After freshening up and breakfast, all off us set out again, this time to the Delhi domestic airport. After checking in and a quick coffee at the cafe there, we boarded our flight to Srinagar.

And what a flight it was! Throughout the entire flight we could see spectacular views of the Himalayan range. It was breathtaking to say the least, and was a perfect start to the holiday and a perfect welcome to Kashmir! I was terribly excited throughout and kept ooh-ing and aah-ing.

At Srinagar, we had to wait for a while outside the airport for my parents, who were taking a different flight, to arrive. Once they arrived, there was another round of "meet-the-granddaughter" excitement, after which all of us set off to Gulmarg, our first stop in Kashmir.

Gulmarg is a beautiful little village in the mountains and required a long uphill drive that presented fantastic views of the valley below and snow peaked ranges beyond.

We made a short stop at a restaurant for a late lunch and had our first taste of Kashmiri food - the local rogan josh was mind blowing. We stuffed ourselves with that and several other types of curries and breads and continued our journey to Gulmarg.

We reached Gulmarg at about 5pm and checked into our cute little hotel, Alpine Ridge. The temperature had dipped considerably and we got ourselves layered up in warm woollens. After a round of tea and some unpacking, we decided to call it a day early since all of us very tired after multiple flights and the drive.

I snuggled under the warm blankets, enjoying the absolute stillness and quiet outside and fell fast asleep pretty soon - tired but happy. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Day 295: Pre-Holiday Madness!

It was one of the most hectic days ever.

I had to wake up at 5:30am in Beijing, take a cab to the airport and fly to Singapore. The flight was happily an hour or so late. Once I got to Singapore, I rushed home, worked my ass off on a LOT of urgent stuff, did all the last minute packing, got myself and the little one ready, and together with the hubby, rushed to the airport to catch our overnight flight to Delhi to kickstart our holiday in Kashmir, to celebrate the little one's first birthday with her grandparents.

So yes, it was a super hectic day. But a few really good things happened.

Firstly I got to fly business class from Beijing to Singapore, which I haven't done in a while, and that was awesome.

I also got to catch a really good movie "Now you see me". I hadn't even heard of it before and it was really a fantastic surprise of a film!

It was also nice to talk to the in laws and the parents and hear their excitement about trip too. There were all set too and was looking forward to meet their grand daughter and pamper her silly!

Last but not the least, it was indeed a hectic day but I am happy to have completed every single thing on my list of things-to-do-before-holiday and that made me feel like I totally deserve this holiday!

Now it's time for Kashmir! 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Days 293 - 294: Beijing - Consumers, Weather, Food & Dance!

21 - 22 October, 2013

I was in Beijing for a couple of days on consumer research and I had a super hectic yet super fabulous time! Time for a quick list!

1) Consumers - I love consumer research. It is so fascinating to listen to these people open their minds and thoughts to total strangers. Each time I hear a consumer speak, I could write an entire script on her life! You get to meet so many people with so many different characters and aspirations, it is really exciting! I had three visits to consumers homes each day for the research. That was super tiring but I enjoyed it!

2) Food - every meal saw a super large spread and I was very much overfed for the two days. I had everything from the famous Peking Duck to some very unique dishes like vegetable patties and pineapples in mayonnaise and a particular kind of fish which was dressed up as if it were a coral reef. I can also say that I probably had the most variety of meat within two consecutive days!

3) Weather - The temperature hovered between 12 - 17 degree celsius and it was just perfect!  One night I got the chance to take a long walk to and from dinner in that cold frosty autumn weather, with my palms tucked away into the pockets of my jacket and with the frosty air escaping my mouth as I talked. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip!

4) Dance - The Chinese people love dancing. In fact, most of our consumers were talking about how their mothers are always out dancing. And I got to see that too. As I walked down to get some Peking duck one night, I saw a lot of people, mainly senior citizens, dancing away in a square. There was one bunch doing line dancing, there was another bunch doing ballroom dancing and there was yet another bunch doing something like a mix of Taichi and dance. To add to the ambiance, there was another group of people, dressed up in a blue uniform and singing away. How wonderful! And the best part? They were still at it even as I was on my way back at 10 pm, dancing away in that cold weather! Awesome!

These are some of the highlights. But really, I enjoyed every bit of this trip. The long rides from one consumer home to the other, the intense discussion on the Chinese culture and psyche, watching one heritage building after the other appearing every now and then, seeing the lit up Tiananmen Square once again after three years, and maybe even the working late into the night (and I mean really LATE) catching up on emails over a hot cup of chocolate.

It was all very good!