Category Archives: Travel Vignettes

She made me look fat

Sometimes while doing the most inane tasks like staring at your toe nails for example, have you ever been stricken with a surge of creative energy that makes you feel you could do anything?

I have and before it fizzled out I rode with it and some sketching supplies on the subway to Hoehyeon station, emerged out of Exit 5 and walked straight into a noisy, overcrowded, confusing maze called Namdaemun Market, Korea’s largest traditional market with 600 years of history.

The first order of business was to orient myself and then locate a discreet corner from where I could sketch without being in the way of either the vendors or the shoppers. I got hopelessly lost instead which wasn’t exactly surprising considering I was a first time visitor to a market that has over 10,000 stores and is visited by 300,000 people a day.

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Sketching on Fashion Street in Namdaemun Market, Seoul

To give you a idea, here’s a list of the items I saw being sold on just one of the streets – hats (all kinds imaginable and more), fur coats, dried nuts, dumplings, spectacles, stone seals, eerie looking ginseng with their sinewy roots stored in clear glass jars and miles of kitchen utensils. I was beginning to believe in the saying that if you don’t find it in Namdaemun Market, you won’t find it anywhere in Seoul.

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View from my corner on Fashion Street.

A map, which I had snagged from the tourist information centre in the meantime showed entire alleys and streets dedicated to cameras, bedding items, watches and jewellery, mountain climbing equipments, women’s, men’s and children’s clothing, stationaries and more.

When I spotted yards of army green stretched out in the form of military uniforms, T-shirts, caps, blankets, boots, sacks, compasses, watches and telescopes, I knew I had hit the ‘Military Uniform Street’ on my way back from the ‘Fish and Stew Alley’. Galchi jorim, or braised hairtail fish stew, one of Namdaemun Market’s famed food offerings along with Kalguksu (Korean knife-cut noodle soup) have to wait for my next visit.

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Namdaemun Market in Seoul – Korea’s largest traditional market. Drawn with dip pen and ink.

This visit was all about channeling my chance ebullience fuelled by the mood enhancing amino acid in my matcha latte for all I knew and perhaps the fact that I had been feeling pretty sketch-deprived lately. Seoul is still new to me. I don’t know the best spots to sketch from yet. Finding out can be fun but sometimes exhausting too when you just want to get down to business!

‘Fashion Street’ had one little corner squeezed in between a fur coat vendor, shirt, pants and coat seller and a shop selling pink and cutesy Mickey mouse themed merchandise from where I made this drawing. Tons of people came to look and showed various signs of appreciation though I didn’t understand a word they said. What I clearly did understand simply because some things transcend languages, was when fur coat vendor in his excitement dragged Mickey mouse lady by the arm to show how I had put her in my sketch and she self consciously touched her waist and said, “She made me look fat!” and marched off.

 

 

 

 

 

So, are you settled yet?

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Room 632 at Glad Hotel, Yeouido. We stayed here for a month after landing in Seoul.

Ever since we moved from Singapore to Seoul two months ago, my dad has been asking me the same question every time he calls. Between, ‘how are you’ and ‘how’s the weather’, which act as the beginning and end to all our conversations, this new question makes up the vast uncharted middle. To be fair, it’s not just my dad, although he’s the most frequent and punctual inquirer, my sister, relatives, and close friends have been wanting to know the same thing.

‘Am I settled yet?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know?”

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First sketch after landing in Seoul. The guy on the left was eating dumplings at the hotel’s breakfast table.

The day we flew into Seoul, we checked into a hotel and stayed in room 632 for the whole month of March. I remember craning my neck out of the room’s only window facing the road Uisadang-daero, and looking at the green dome of the National Assembly on my left and repeating to myself myself in a reassuring tone that we are here.

We are finally here.

We made it.

After months of planning, researching, debating, questioning the decision of moving, making pro/con lists and checklists, checking items off that checklist, after selling furniture, donating books to the library, having occasional meltdowns and then cheering ourselves up by eating at all our fav places one last time, after making trips to the Salvation Army with impossibly heavy bags, after endless packing, cleaning the apartment, handing over the keys of the apartment to the landlord and finally after saying painful goodbyes to our friends we are here.

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Seen at Gontran Cherrier cafe. He was reading The Big Short by Michael Lewis about the build -up of Unites States housing bubble during the 2000s. I had a peek at the cover!

All this while I thought once we hop on that flight to Seoul, the nagging feeling of displacement, the feeling of ground shifting beneath your feet, the feeling of being in limbo, floating in ether, the neither here nor there, sitting on the threshold with one foot inside and the other outside the door kind of feeling will slip off  like a magician’s silk scarf. A pack of white doves would fly across the stage. Confetti will fall. People will applaud.

Instead my dad asks if I feel settled yet.

I should’ve. But I have a feeling that the show isn’t over. The doves fly back to the magician. There’s a second act. “Baba, we are looking for an apartment. Once we get one, we’ll be settled then”, I tell him. And to myself.

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Two girls seen on subway line 9. The girl on the left had a red blotch on her face next to the nose and kept checking it out on her phone. Her friend kept reassuring her that it was nothing!

As soon as we get our bearings, we start looking for an apartment. Within a fortnight we sign the dotted line on a rent agreement. This place is much bigger than the one we lived in for 7 years in Singapore. We have a floor to ceiling shoe rack. No more shoes lying about like fallen soldiers in the hallway. There are three bedrooms, so I have space for practicing yoga. No more trying to squeeze myself in between the living room sofa and the dining table. No more pining for a luxurious reading chair with a floor lamp beside it right by my bookcase because the study can accommodate one.

We can stow away our 5 large suitcases in various niches in the walls away from view. No more shoving them under the bed and ruining the wooden slats under the mattress. The kitchen is big enough for the two of us to be working together without getting in each other’s way. “No more, ‘I’m behind you, watch out’, warnings”, I tell Baba jokingly over the phone.

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People on Subway line 9

At the end of the month, we pack up again, say goodbye to room 632, the hotel staff, some of whom we came to know by name and move into the apartment. We order furniture from IKEA. We change the password of the electronic lock on the main door. We buy ourselves a frying pan, two pairs of spoons and forks, two dinner plates, bowls, one kitchen knife and a stirring spoon. We unpack our bags, hang clothes in the wardrobes, arrange the toiletries, spread the newly bought cerulean blue sheet on the bed and fluff the cushions. I even hang a pretty white and blue chequered tea towel on the oven door.

But when my dad calls again and asks the same question, my answer is laced with irritation. ” I don’t even have my own pillow...”, I say. The lump in my throat was hard to swallow. Was his need for me to be settled, chafing against the time I needed to be settled?

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Seen at a Starbucks in Gangnam. 

If I had handled it better then I’d have said to him that I didn’t have my pillow or my books, my computer, my writing table, my paints, sketchbooks, or my favourite Tefal non-stick frying pan.  They arrive with the movers in a week. All 42 boxes.

And maybe when they’re here I will be finally settled. With that I’d have headed to the kitchen to whip up something warm and comforting.

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A mindless doodle of few objects and sights I came across during our stay at the hotel in Yeouido.

I have never made Spaghetti Aglio E Olio quite as frequently as I did in between the time we moved to Seoul and until the movers walked in bearing my kitchen paraphernalia. Why? Not just because I’ve made it hundreds of times before but also because it is incredibly easy to prepare and doesn’t involve anything fancy in terms of ingredients or utensils. Just warm some olive oil in a pan, throw in chopped garlic and red pepper flakes, cook for 2 mins on low flame. Infusing the oil with the flavour of garlic and pepper flakes is key. Add the cooked pasta to the pan. Toss well. Done.

Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan on top. To this simple, rustic dish, I create variety by adding either shrimps or chicken and/or mushrooms, zucchini, green beans, chickpeas, even boiled eggs. My husband has been a saint for lapping up every strand of spaghetti cooked the same way day after day during this period. Then again, maybe not that big a saint, I realised later.

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Seen at A Twosome Place in Gangnam

When you’re in the process of adapting to everything new and foreign, all it takes is the old familiarity of an oft cooked meal to anchor you like an astronaut’s safety tether that keeps him from floating away in space. Every evening when two souls lost in a trail of thoughts and apprehensions gathered across the table in their hotel room under the glow of an overhead lamp hundreds of miles away from what they knew as home, this food brought them together and comforted them in a way nothing else did. Over forkfuls of spaghetti we made plans for the future.

We laughed and we loved. We said to each other that we’d be alright. It was a great feeling. Sacred even. In a modern vehicle, the axle plays a role in the driving, braking and steering functions. Every dinner of Aglio E Olio felt like that axle – the steady shaft at the centre of two spinning wheels.

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I saw this girl doing her make up at Starbucks and I realized how no one ever says, “I’ll be right back. I have to powder my nose” anymore!

In a week, as per schedule Lucy, a short sprightly Korean lady who flicked her hair a lot while talking, knocked on our door at 9 am sharp. She was from the movers and was here to oversee the last leg of this move. Two men were bringing our boxes from a van parked downstairs at the back of the building. She handed us a sheet with numbers from 1 to 800 printed inside little squares. “As each box comes through the door, you need to check its number and cross it out on this list” she said.

No. 12…books and decorative items…put where?”, called out a tall Korean guy, walking in with a carton balanced on his shoulder. He had a thick mop of wavy salt and pepper hair and a gait that would’ve matched a business suit more than his flannel shirt and jeans which had pearly gates embroidered in cursive letters over the back pocket in lurid pink thread.  The owner of the ‘heavenly derriere’ was pointed towards the study where the bookcase was. My husband crossed a box on the sheet. I exhaled.

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 Men chatting at the table next to ours at cafe Cattle & Bee in Gangnam 

No. 37, TV…No. 8, kitchen utensils.’

As more boxes came in I exhaled some more. For days on end I had this feeling that every ounce of energy in my body was being used in blowing up this giant inflatable zeppelin. And now the job was done. I could set it free to float in the sky. The pressure was off.

No. 10“, pearly gates, called.

A big fat hen. I wish I said that out loud.

No. 27“, he called again.

Gateway to heaven. I definitely wish I had said that out loud.

It took us eight hours to put away the contents of those 42 boxes after Lucy and her entourage left. They had unpacked every box and laid their contents on the floors of the respective rooms where they belonged. It was all very neat and organised. I had horrid dreams of my books drowning in the sea but they made it in one piece without a scratch. Everything arrived in pristine condition except two casualties discovered in the souvenirs carton. Eiffel tower had a severed leg and Statue of Liberty had fractured her arm.

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Saw this man chowing down on a large salad at Gontran Cherrier.

But that didn’t matter so much because I had finally reunited with my pillow. Everything that made my home in Singapore was here in Seoul. Things that needed attention now were in the realm of home improvement like hanging picture frames on the walls, buying plants and decorative items, getting cleaning equipments like mops, detergents, dishwashing liquids and so on.

So when Baba called a few days later and before he could ask me anything, I volunteered how impossibly difficult it was to get a proper ironing table. “They’re either too big and expensive or too small and fragile“. Then I ranted about how the tap water isn’t potable and how I didn’t find green beans or minced chicken at any supermarket and how ridiculously expensive watermelons were and how cable network had barely any English channel and how every letter box in the building was without locks and how banks in Korea do not have the provision of opening joint accounts.

I guess I answered his question even before he could ask it.

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Seen on subway line 9. This guy had really chunky boots on with bright yellow laces! I had so much fun sketching him.

But that didn’t stop me from asking it to myself. And probing even further. What does ‘being settled’ even mean? How long until you can be fully settled? What did my dad actually want to know from me?

Maybe we have different definitions of the same word. To my 65 year old man who is 4034 kms away from his daughter, being settled may just mean her safely landing at her destination and checking into a hotel. As far as he was concerned, the move was done. Singapore was behind us. I should’ve settled. A month later when we moved into the apartment, surely then I should’ve settled. And finally when our shipment arrived, that should have been the ultimate finish line of being settled. Maybe he would’ve cheered from the metaphorical sidelines if only I said the word.

But I didn’t. Because we were never on the same page. The dictionary definition of ‘settle’, a verb, is to establish a residence. A residence has been established. My father expects a crisp past perfect but I am dwelling in the present continuous tense.

I am settling.

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Sketched these girls on the night of South Korea’s Presidential Elections at Angel-in-us Cafe near our house. They were the most fidgety people I’d ever drawn but in the end I got them down safely on paper!

Out of the 7 years we lived in Singapore, I can’t say exactly how much time it took for us to settle when we moved there from Munich. But at the end of those 7 years if a newly bought shoe felt too tight, I knew the exact place to get it fixed under $10. If I needed to buy a rice cooker I could list at least 5 places to buy it from. I had a ‘fish guy’ who’d only sell me the freshest fish and a ‘grocery guy’ who at the sight of me would leave other customers waiting to disappear inside his shop and fetch me the freshest yoghurt he had made that day.

I knew which movie theatres had the most leg room and the cafes where you could be served unparalleled Egg Benedict or Kouign Amman. I had friends with whom I could have deep spiritual discussions and friends who I could call in the middle of the night if I got into trouble. Did all this make me feel settled? A resounding, yes. Did all this take time to build? Yes, again.

And I need that time here because I start from scratch. Because trying to replicate your old life in a new place is utter foolishness. Believe me, I tried.

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Seen at Gontran Cherrier. 

So instead of ranting about everything that I couldn’t’ find or isn’t easily available or is different from what I was used to, I surveyed the nearby supermarket to make a note of every thing that is available. I researched recipes of dishes I could make using those ingredients and on my 4th visit to eMart I exited with a packet of kimchi, gochujang (Korean chilli paste), sesame oil and mung bean sprouts. My kimchi-bokkeum-bap may have been low on taste but it was a pathbreaker.

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A girl with lurid pink hair. Seen at Cafe Cattle & Bee, Gangnam.

Since then, we’ve strolled under cherry blossom trees at Yeouido Park and drank coffee and licked ice creams with the locals sitting on benches with our faces to the sun; found a shop at Itaewon that sells all kinds of Indian spices; and gone on a weekend trip to the port city of Busan. We’ve learnt how to separate the trash into common garbage and recyclables, how to operate our washing machine with labels in Korean and gotten used to buying bottled water just like everybody. I have started sketching in cafes again (as you can see from these drawings), which are aplenty here. And at the end of this month I’m going to join a book club and then take Korean language classes.

A more expensive ironing table that is nothing like the one we used to own before has been bought since. Our kimchi fridge, a common fixture in all Korean apartments still remains empty but I am hopeful that it’ll have a chance to serve its purpose one day.

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Seen on subway line 9

Sometimes when I am looking out from the window of our apartment in Gangnam my eyes glaze over and I feel like I’m living in this very intuitive and extremely realistic dream from which I would wake up any minute and find myself in my old bed in Lincoln Road. I’d stop the alarm, tie my frizzy hair – by courtesy of Singapore’s humidity – in a tight bun and walk into the kitchen to make us some tea.

Settling, as I have found out is a work in progress. It requires time and patience. It is also a lot of fun if you don’t take things too seriously. But most of the time it feels like climbing an incline. You are allowed to make as many stops as you like to take a breather and to absorb your surroundings like those sure footed goats I once saw bounding up an almost erect mountain in Greece. From a sailboat on the bluest of blue seas, I envied their view and the wonderful rhythm of their steps. Two months in Seoul and I am already beginning to see the view but when I find my rhythm and I will, I hope my dad calls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One smart cookie

Few weeks ago I was having dinner with few of my sketching  pals when a friend pulled out some fortune cookies from his bag and passed them around. Now I am a very ‘if you want something you gotta work for it’ kind of person and do not wait for the stars to be in right allignment to act upon what needs to be acted upon but once in a while I do amuse myself with a light read of the horoscope in the daily newspaper.

The problem is, once the knowledge of how my day is going to pan out has been acquired, I use that intel to corroborate everything that happens from then on. For example, my inclination to take up a new language the other day was obviously because cafeastrology predicted that ‘..with the moon in your communications sector, dear Virgo, you tend to want to be ‘on the go’, making connections, learning ( and there’s our key word!) and sharing. Today the same column predicts that my ‘boredom threshold level’ is supposed to be very low which must explain my pillaging the larder and finishing a bag of garlic breads while watching Gilmore Girls. See, how this works?

This extends to fortune cookies as well. And this is what the first fortune cookie I ever opened in my life said –

How could I have ignored such a potential life altering edict from a smart cookie like that? I couldn’t. So this happened a week ago –

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Rarely do I get a chance to recycle an old illustration. I made the original last August when we visited Seoul as tourists. Little did we know that seven months later we’d move here. 

Yes, we moved! And we are settling quite well, better than I imagined. Well, all that practice from before is coming in handy. Our first move was from Delhi to Munich and then from Munich to Singapore and now after seven years of expat life in the tropical city state, we’re here in the capital of South Korea, living in a nifty service apartment for now from the window of which I can smell spring which is just round the corner and can see the dome of the National Assembly building if I really crane my neck.

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Aboard Singapore Airlines, flying to Seoul. The final goodbye was very painful but also looking forward to new beginnings.

The first week as expected of settling in at a new place has been predictably eventful. We got our tuberculosis tests done (required to apply for a residence permit) at a public health clinic where not a single soul spoke English.

Everything went remarkably well, considering we managed to fill out forms that were in Korean except for a little confusion towards the end when our names got swapped and my husband was asked to take the test again when they actually meant to ask me. But we handled it with all the charm we could muster. Never underestimate the power of miming. Grocery shopping happened on Tuesday and I was bummed because I couldn’t find most of the vegetables I was used to buying but loved the fact that supermarkets don’t hand out plastic bags.

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From 23 degrees C in Singapore to -3 degrees C in Seoul. But spring is coming!

Also, basmati rice costs more than 3 times of what we paid in Singapore. On Friday, President Park was impeached, on Saturday we went apartment hunting with a property agent named Elvis who looked 30 years old but was actually pushing 50 and thought that it was inappropriate to celebrate the impeachment of a country’s president even though the desired outcome had been achieved. On Sunday we sniffed out a cafe by Gontran Cherrier (his Kouign Amanns were to die for even in Singapore) and on Monday we applied for our residence permits at the Immigration office. Phew!

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At Incheon Airport. We had so much luggage that it wouldn’t be fit into a regular taxi, so we had to hire a ‘van’.

There are still a million things to be done like finding an apartment, opening a bank account, getting a local phone number, applying for internet, finding an Indian grocery store that sells all the spices I use in my cooking and so much more which cumulatively may feel overwhelming but every time I sense my patience fraying I remind myself that we are doing exactly what we always wanted to do, which was to travel.

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This fantastic service apartment is our home for this entire month until we find our own apartment. We have a kitchenette and the first meal I made after buying groceries was pasta Agilo e oilo!

To travel to a new place and make it home for a while. To explore and discover our new home. To experience all over again the full gamut of emotions from being surprised, shocked, disgusted, livid, bemused to being excited, joyful, exhilarated, inspired, happy and possibly a lot humbler than we were before (not necessarily in that order) as a result of those discoveries and explorations. It is akin to suddenly being apprised of the fact that you have a beating heart, although you had it all your life and never cared and feeling how marvellous that is! It is akin to feeling alive!

Oh! there will be stories to tell. And I know it’ll all be fun, just as my cookie predicted.

 

 

 

 

To whoever’s Bangkok bound

and time crunched ( or not) but wants to make the most of his/her visit to this incredible city, I give you  24 Hours in Bangkok , written and illustrated by me and published in Selamta Magazine, the magazine of Ethiopian Airlines.

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Hand drawn illustrated map of Bangkok

This above is the map illustration accompanying the article. I drew it with a dip pen and sepia ink and coloured it using watercolours. By creating a compilation of little watercolour sketches of the sights, I wanted my map to convey that ‘sense of place’ to the traveler; take him/her on a visual (and at times, sensory) tour of the city even before the flight lands at Suvarnabhumi airport.

For the armchair traveler and if you are one, this map should work equally well. As you trace your eyes across the sights on the map, following the paths marked out, I hope you can taste the sweetness of the ripe mango served with fragrant rice at Baan Khanitha or sense the calmness of your surroundings while resting on the wrought iron bench at Jim Thompson’s House, be awestruck by the sheer size and beauty of Wat Suthat as you follow the orange robed monks there and finally at the end of a long day, feel your aching muscles spring back to life at the healing hands of your masseuse at Ruen Nuad Massage Studio.

Whether you travel actually or virtually, I hope my write-up and hand drawn map takes you places. And since we’re talking about maps, here’s another one I drew of Mumbai for the same magazine. Check out : For the love of maps

 

Discombobulated

is how I’ve been feeling over the last 72 hours. It is hard to describe but suffice it to say that my body and mind are at two different places, miles apart from one another and I, for the life of me cannot reconcile them. Tricky state to be in really, but if you knew how I got here, you may want to try it too. And I hope you do.

Well, three weeks ago this is how it all started –

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This is the first page of my concertina travel journal that I took along on the journey.

Traveling to the land of Chinggis Khan, passing through the same vast Steppes of Central Asia where he and his mighty army lived in and trampled across to conquer nearly half the world had been one of those dreams which you birth quietly while turning the pages of a history book but keep bottled up inside thinking it might be too lofty to see the light of day.

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My husband’s minion flip-flops were such a joy to draw!

But ours just clambered up into reality after years of planning. And on the way to Mongolia, we spent a week in Seoul in South Korea by hanging out at ancient palaces, sipping persimmon tea inside traditional tea houses, whizzing through local markets in search of mung bean pancakes and shopping on neon lit streets of Myeongdong.

Two destinations clubbed together on the same trip couldn’t have been more different, not just in terms of landscape and the lifestyle of people who live there but also to the degree they transformed us as travellers when we set foot on their terrain. While it was fascinating to explore the mix of quaint and cutting-edge cohabiting in Seoul, the city never pushed our boundaries or threw us out of our comfort zones as traveling in Mongolia did at certain times, especially when we were in the countryside and yet it left the most incredible and also indelible taste in our mouth.

Now that I’m back home in Singapore, there are stories to tell and sketches to share from this epic journey of ours but not until I can steer my mind away from where it is comfortably dwelling, which is here –

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View of Ulaanbataar city from our room in the hotel (Tip – Request for a room on a high floor with mountainside view if you stay at Shangri-la, UB)

and (mostly) here –

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The ubiquitous Steppes of Mongolia

here –

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A lone Ger on the Steppes

…and here –

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Horses running wild in the vast Steppes

From our apartment window in Singapore I can only ever see a sliver of sky squished in between two Goliath high rises. Sigh! But then again I have access to running water, privacy, ensuite bathroom and high speed wi-fi. It may not be very long until you hear from me again, after all.

 

 

Trip to the Antipodes series : New Zealand (part II)

7th January 2015 : The Southern Scenic Route – There were several detractors of the ‘Southern Scenic Route’ that starts from the heritage town of Dunedin following the southern coast to Invercargill via the Catlins and continuing west to our final destination – Te Anau. ‘There’s nothing much to see on this route’; ‘it’s a waste of time’; ‘you should rather opt for a 3 hrs non stop drive to Queenstown’ and so on, is what we heard all along.

Truth be told, only because we had driven on the Inland Scenic Route with fabulous views of the Canterbury Plains and the surreal Southern Alps , this part of the journey paled in comparison. But not without a few surprises.

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7th Jan / Southern Scenic Route – After accounting for the places we wanted to stop along this route : Dunedin – Milton – Kaka Point- Nugget Point – Owaka – Purakanui Falls – Papatowai – Curio Bay – Invercargill – Colac Bay – Lake Manapouri – Te Anau, it was clear that we were in for a long drive, about 8 to 10 hours long.

Like Nugget Point, with its solitary lighthouse dominating a jagged peak on the Catlins coast. It feels like a place you may see in your dreams and have a lingering memory of when you wake up. As you climb up the steep headland with a 200 feet drop on the left, the wind howls in your ears, shuffling through your hair and clothes. The brooding grey sky hangs above. And the ocean, somnolent at a distance is broken into indignant froth by the nugget like rocky islets scattered below. Fur seals and sea lions laze on the rocks, undisturbed.

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7th Jan / Southern Scenic Route – The three tiered Purakaunui Falls was tucked in a soft mossy green aura ; Curio Bay showed us three hector dolphins and Invercargill was only good for a cup of coffee and döner kebab. Note the signage near the Llama farm in Manapouri!

It was near the spectacular Lake Manapouri that we stopped by a llama farm and I sketched the one remaining llama that didn’t flee as I approached the barbed wire fencing. At Te Anau, we checked into a refurbished cathedral working as a B&B and after a freezing stroll along the lake, we ended the day in Mother Superior’s room.

January 2015 : Day trip to Milford Sound – If there’s something in this world that holds the power to transform and transcend, it is nature. I’ve felt that numerous times while driving through New Zealand, across varied landscapes but never did I feel it so strongly as I did on that ferry sailing through the fiord, past lush rainforest covered sheer rock faces, rising from the water like giant mythical creatures, their peaks hidden behind a thick veil of mist.

We were on the 2.5 hours Milford Sound nature cruise with Real Journeys that started at 1:30pm.  As per the brochure, a million people visit what Rudyard Kipling called the 8th wonder of the world. The anticipation was high.

As the 2.5 hours MIlford Sound cruise ended, I became a sad, bumbling mush.  called it the Milford Hangover. It was hard for my husband to drag me away to the car. I kept walking back.

8th Jan / MIlford Sound – As the end of the Milford Sound cruise, I became a sad, mumbling mush. I called it the Milford Hangover – a mixture of awe and humility. It was hard for my husband to drag me away because I kept looking back for ‘one last view’. In the evening we checked into Dusky Ridges, a working farm in Te Anau, amid rolling fields, distant mountains and pine trees. Next morning, Win, the kiwi owner let us feed goats, chicken, deer and alpacas!

The deeper we trudged into the fiord, more windy and mystical it became, with the boat bobbing with the waves and spraying water on the deck. We were soaking wet, fighting the howling gale, holding on to the mast, stupefied with the outlandish beauty.  Just as we were sailing back to shore, Mitre Peak dusted itself off the clouds and appeared in full regalia. The captain killed the engine and said, “This isn’t something we see every day. You’re very lucky”. He wasn’t talking about the snow capped peak. A school of dolphins were joyously swimming past the boat, some jumping in the water in perfect arches.

9th January 2015 : Te Anau to Queenstown – The sight of the mighty Remarkables signalled the arrival of Queenstown which was living up to its hype of the adventure capital of New Zealand. A casual stroll through the streets took us past a string of shops retailing bungee jumping, jetboating, rafting, sky diving offers plus a host of another selling appropriate gears for engaging in these high adrenaline sports.

The mighty Remarkables in the evening light had be awestruck for a very long time. While  I was sketching the mountain range, a lady   few hundred metres away from me was perched on a projecting rock and was reciting a verse out loud with conviction and tempo.

9th Jan / Queenstown –  While I was sketching the Remarkables, a lady few hundred metres away from me, perched on a projecting rock, was reciting a verse in English, out loud with intense conviction and in a quick tempo. It was very powerful, especially during that time of the evening. I had goosebumps.

High end hotels, mid range apartments, low range hostels, backpacker joints, all kinds eateries and their purveyors were crammed in every corner of Queensland, strolling, driving, sunbathing, swimming, photographing, souvenir shopping, hiking, clubbing and what not. It was the most touristy spot I’d come across in the entire South Island.

Forty five minutes drive to Glenorchy with spectacular views of Lake Wakatipu against sheer mountains and an electric blue sky, was the perfect antidote to boisterous Queenstown. We spent the evening at Glenorchy Cafe listening to live music in its backyard and watched the sun set behind the mountains.

10th January 2015 : Day Trip to Arrowtown –  Arrowtown looks like a film set for a period drama, too quaint to be real at times. The tree lined 19th century cottages and historic wooden buildings have played their part in the 1850s Gold Rush, and now pull their weight by housing museums, restaurants, real estate agency, cafes, bars and shops selling sheep skin carpets, sweaters, vintage decorative items, souvenirs and so on.

There’s a meditative silence interrupted by bird cries and the constant drone of visitors who are here to collectively travel back in time. To savour this anachronism some more, we have coffee at Postmasters – a historic cottage which was once the home of the postmaster.

10th Jan / Arrowtown - I tried Gold Panning at Dudley Cottage for 10 dollars and got a certificate and vial containing my find!

10th Jan / Arrowtown – I tried Gold Panning at Dudley Cottage for 10 dollars and got a certificate and vial containing my find! ‘Success was guaranteed” though!

On the way back to Queenstown, we stop at Lake Hayes. The 100th annual Lake Hayes agricultural and pastoral show was wrapping up for the day – the horses, sheep were led to the cattle trucks, the organisers resting their legs on chairs, drinking beer, the makeshift structures being dismantled, the dust from the festivities finally settling. From a private nook along the lake we watch the purple sunset. The melancholy of the the last night in New Zealand was fast approaching.

11th January 2015 : Queenstown to Melbourne – Thank God for an extra day in Melbourne, because QVM was fantastic! It was in the deli section where my pulse quickened. Extensive range of cheese, marinated olives, cured sausages, dips, pates dazzled in their marble counters. Bakeries, patisseries, spice shops, wine sellers, chocolatiers, coffee and tea merchants got me absolutely berserk. You can gauge my excitement from the shopping I did there in the short amount of time. Everything got sketched, of course!

Gewürzhaus was my favourite shop in QVM

11th Jan / Melbourne – Gewürzhaus (the top right sketch) was my favourite shop in QVM. I bought a pack of French Lavender salt from them. Also, their salted caramel candy is finger-licking good!

12th January 2015 : Melbourne to Singapore – The last day was spent in revisiting some favourite spots like Cumulus Inc – pigging out on yet another plate of roasted cauliflower and buying more spices from Gewürzhaus. We sealed the trip on a victorian note, sipping ‘snow white’ from dainty white cups in HopeToun Tea Rooms, a 19th century tea parlour in Block Arcade.

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12th Jan / Melbourne – The Two Korean guys who bought our Myki Card were students from Brisbane. They asked me if we were on our honeymoon!

Above is the 49th as well as the last page of my journal that records a fabulous 18 day trip to the Antipodes. Sketching a journey so extensively has been a revelation! Apart from the sense of joy in putting pen to paper everyday and creating something from nothing, it became a practice in self-discipline and mindfulness. When I started the first page, listing the items packed in my backpack, I did not expect it to evolve into what it is now – a tactile treasure trove of memories.

Trip to the Antipodes series : New Zealand (part I)

1st January 2015 : Sydney to Christchurch –  As you can see from my sketch I started the year with a tall glass of promising ‘Green and Lean’ juice at Lumiere Cafe on Bourke Street. Five seconds later, a massive portion of Egg Benedict followed. New Year resolutions be damned.

To work that off we voted for a walk from City Hall to Sydney Opera House and see the iconic building one last time. What seemed like a great idea, gradually lost its appeal as the day became hotter. Most shops were closed and there were understandably few people on the streets after last night’s revelries, making our stroll even less fun. The chilled passion fruit smoothie at Starbucks saved me from passing out before the flight.

Sydney to Christchurch / 1st Jan : Highlight of the day was picking up Charlie from the airport.

Sydney to Christchurch / 1st Jan : Picking up Charlie from Christchurch airport was the only highlight of the day.

And then – Kia Ora New Zealand! We picked up Charlie, our rental car from Christchurch airport around midnight. John Steinbeck may have something to do with my naming our red Toyota Corolla. Charlie’s Odometer Reading showed : 43300Km at the time of pick up. I kept a record of the readings on my sketchbook to gauge how much we drove each day.

2nd January 2015 : Hanging out in Christchurch –  The scars of the 2011 earthquake, were prominent on Christchurch. Vast spaces lay bare in between buildings. We walked past piles of rubble, damaged structures, collapsed, stripped to the core with iron rods sticking out of them. It was heartbreaking especially the plight of the 100 plus years old Christchurch Cathedral. Outside these cordoned off areas containing the wreckage, the story was one of resilience and hope.

The Re:start mall seemed such a beacon. Everything from food, carpets, sweaters, shoes, clothes, souvenirs and kiwi knick knacks were sold from inside of colourful shipping containers! We shared a bench with a family from Wellington and sipped lemonade right in front of a bright red metal box that had become the home for Scorpio books.

Christchurch / 2nd Jan : We had dinner at Indian Sumner, an Indian restaurant at Sumner. After surviving on Egg Benedict, Fish and Chips, sandwiches, wraps and burgers for days, a slice of home felt heavenly.

Christchurch / 2nd Jan : We had dinner at Indian Sumner, an Indian restaurant at Sumner. After surviving on Egg Benedict, Fish and Chips, sandwiches, wraps and burgers for days, a slice of home felt heavenly.

If there’s one place I’d like to return to in Christchurch, it would be the Risingholme garden, inside the Botanical garden. The serenity of nature, the meditative silence and the feeling of being minuscule, inconsequential amid the giant oaks, cedars, beeches and Spanish chestnut will remain special. I flitted from one tree to another, hugging, smelling, caressing their massive trunks, finally settling under the shade of Cedrus Atlantica, from where this sketch was done.

In the evening, Charlie drove us to Sumner – a pretty seaside suburb of Christchurch, about 12 km away. We watched a dramatic sunset and walked on the long beach in the golden light, listening to waves violently crash against the jagged rocks. It was cold, so we huddled up close to each other and held hands. For a little while, the poignant reminders of a brutal calamity writ large upon Christchurch was forgotten.

3rd January 2015 : Onwards to Lake Tekapo  – Black Betty, a stone’s throw from Southwark Apartments, was open for business, post new year. We were among the firsts to show up. The gothic accents were interesting but thankfully not overpowering for detractors. The hot chocolate and blueberry muffins lived up to the great reviews.

But we didn’t want to fill up because our next stop was Lyttelton Farmers Market, in the port town of Lyttelton, about 12 Km away. I was so enamoured with Sue’s marinated olives that we spent an inordinate amount of time at her stall. It was very hard to turn away from the rest of her wares – semi-dried tomatoes, dolmades, marinated artichokes, several kinds of dips and hummus – everything fresh, fragrant, glistening and ready to eat! “I used to own a cafe there (apparently the legendary Volcano Cafe)“, she said pointing to her right. Then added “..but after the earthquake destroyed it, I do this.” Sue has developed the volcano brand of delicatessen food that she sells at various farmers markets.  After she helped me pick out 4 different kinds of olives, I sketched her little set up. She graciously signed her name under it, at my request.

Christchurch to Lake Tekapo / 3rd Jan : We were lucky to be able to experience something as local as a farmer's market at Lyttelton. Meeting the people, chatting with them, hearing their stories and, watching them go about their business trumps any tourist attraction. And sketching is the fastest way to make friends!

Christchurch to Lake Tekapo / 3rd Jan : We were lucky to be able to experience something as local as a farmer’s market at Lyttelton. There were times when I wished I was a local just to be a part of their spirited community. Meeting the residents, chatting with them, hearing their stories and, watching them go about their business trumps any commercial tourist attraction. It felt real and authentic. And sketching seemed like a great way to start conversations and make friends out of strangers!

Walking through the market felt like gatecrashing a private party. ‘How’s your mother doing?’, “You looked great in that bikini the other day”, “Were you out of town?”, “Happy New Year!” were some of the snippets of conversation I heard been exchanged between the bread, mince pie, cheese, sausage, herbs, fruit and vegetable stall owners and their customers.

A band played slow music beside a cafe and the harbour across the street looked beautifully blue. Armed with a gigantic ( about 20cm in diameter) Focaccia bread that took us 5 days to finish, 100 gm each of herb and garlic cheese and my treasured olives, we forged ahead towards our destination.

The first sight of Lake Tekapo had us swooning over its terrific blueness. It was bluer than the bluest blue I had seen. Up at St. John’s Observatory, the air was so clean and transparent that the farthest mountains in the backdrop became visible, forming a soft undulating dark green outline in contrast to the stark and edgy blue foreground. For urban dwellers heavy-handed with photoshop and Instagram filters, this sight would be a revelation.

4th January 2015: Mount Cook bound – The owner of Glacier Rock B&B – our fantastic lodging (the view from the patio alone makes it worth the stay) in Lake Tekapo said to us at breakfast, ” I have a feeling that you’ll have a clear view of Mt. Cook today“. Apparently, it isn’t uncommon for the weather to turn without warning and for us that could mean losing our only chance to view the highest peak of New Zealand. Already the radio was abuzz with the news of the three missing mountaineers attempting to scale Mt Cook after the weather deteriorated. I hoped Mrs. MacLaren was right.

Lake Tekapo - Mount Cook - Omarama / 4th Jan : Peak of the day was dipping my feet in glacial water at the end of Hooker Valley Walk. And the bland under seasoned pea soup I had at Shawtys in Twizel has to be the slump of the day. Yes, it was worse than the 120$ speeding ticket.

Lake Tekapo – Mount Cook – Omarama / 4th Jan : Peak of the day was dipping my feet in glacial water at the end of Hooker Valley Walk. And the bland under seasoned pea soup at Shawtys in Twizel has to be the slump of the day. Yes, it was worse than the 120$ speeding ticket.

After a short stopover at Lake Pukaki, the plan was to drive non stop to Hermitage Hotel, take in the famed view of the mountain from there, then start on the 4hours tiring yet spectacular Hookers Valley Walk that ended at the Hooker glacial lake. But the closer we got to the mountain, more compelled were we to make random roadside stops just to adjust our senses to the beauty unfolding. Unsullied nature at such a grand scale was a lot to take in. It was humbling to stand on that listless road snaking feverishly though a sweeping landscape of massive forbidding mountains surrounding us, rising from the ground like mighty waves.

The day ended at Omarama – the starting point of our ‘gold heritage trail’.

5th January 2015 : A long winded route to Dunedin – There is of course a straightforward and quicker route to Dunedin which we did not take. Relaxing is something we forget to do on holidays. Instead we carved out a day long plan to drive through the preserved goldrush towns of Cromwell, Clyde, Alexandra, St. Bathans, Naseby, Ranfurly, Middlemarch and finally to Dunedin, that claim their origins to the discovery of gold in 1861.

Otago's Gold Heritage Trail/ 5th Jan :  I got myself four souvenirs from this trail - a 'Lavender, Lime and Spice' soap bar from Cromwell, a maori dolphin tail locket made out of bone from Clyde, a tacky fridge magnet from Alexandra, a sticker for my diary from St. Bathans. I cannot bring myself to use the soap. For now it perfumes my study table.

Otago’s Gold Heritage Trail/ 5th Jan : I got myself four souvenirs from this trail and none of them was gold. I picked a ‘Lavender, Lime and Spice’ soap bar from Cromwell, a maori dolphin tail locket made out of bone from Clyde, a tacky fridge magnet from Alexandra and a sticker for my diary from St. Bathans. I cannot bring myself to use the soap. For now it perfumes my study table.

The historic precincts in each of these towns being pedestrian, it’s easy to slip back in time just by walking past the retro architecture. Art galleries, restaurants and cafes are housed in some of these establishments. Some act as museums, some sell handcrafted soaps. But together they exude a cute picture postcard beauty and nostalgic charm that made the detour every bit worthwhile.

6th January 2015 : Touring Dunedin – Except Omarama, where our lodging didn’t turn out as expected, I did a pretty good job in finding unique accommodations on this tour, the creme de la creme being Lisburn House in Dunedin – a stunning 19th century Victorian property turned into B&B that will feed your fantasy of living as a member of 19th century English nobility.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time at the Otago Settlers Museum. Not because it was hot outside and I needed the shelter, but because it was of the best curated museums I had visited – one of those educational establishments that believes in telling a compelling story through its exhibits, encouraging its viewers to join the dots instead of spoon feeding them.

Dunedin / 6th Jan: We woke up in a Victorian dream home, toured a chocolate factory and climbed the world's steepest street, all in one day. Pretty productive, I'd say!

Dunedin / 6th Jan: We woke up in a Victorian dream home, toured a chocolate factory and climbed the world’s steepest street, all in one day. Pretty productive, I’d say!

After romping about the city some more, we drove 70 Km to see an unique geological sight that had intrigued us ever since we saw its pictures. Moeraki Boulders seemed like gigantic concrete cannonballs randomly lying on the beach, some in clusters, some solitary. There were deep cracks all over their surface, like some sort of design. Some boulders were intact, whole – people climbed over them and took pictures, while others lay cracked open like an egg shell, with fragments scattered all over the sand.

At sunset, the tip of the boulders became golden tinged. The waves crashed against their smooth bodies, trying to pull them in, but failing and sliding off the sand around them instead. It was hard to make sense of their existence, but that was a good thing because it’s better to be curious than blasè. Isn’t it why we travel?