Thursday, December 31, 2015

Eat my dust (or The last one for this year)

1. Back to points as I seem to function well within them. This is my last post in what has been a big and busy year.

2. I'm in Mumbai after 4 days in Kanha. We had a sleek and powerful leopard saunter out in front of our jeep just as we were giving up hope of seeing any animals on our first 6am Safari. A 2 minute walk just ahead of us. Magic.

3. The next day's 6am safari was turning out to be disappointing when suddenly, on our left, just outside my jeep window we passed a majestic Tigress standing still as a statue. After considering us for about 45 seconds she turned and crossed behind our jeep and wandered at a leisurely pace through the grassland and into the dense forest. 

4. The journey to Kanha was pretty painful with a driver who lied about knowing the way and drove us around for a few extra hours. And that's an understatement. We subsequently did two early morning safaris and ate dust in the open air jeeps, following the mud tracks and stopping to exchange news with other jeeps on their sightings. Despite long showers our ears remain clogged with dust. But the majesty of wild animals from both Cats to Barahsinghas and blue-singed peacock to the many others made up for all the drama of the journey. The forest was beautiful; dense and very green. The hotel was wonderful and the hospitality just amazing. Every person we met seemed to care deeply about it and told us personal stories of their own brushes with animals and of the many conservation efforts and the delicate balance between the man and wilderness. Such passion was entirely endearing. 

5. After leaving behind the 3 beautiful German Shepard dogs (Cheetah, Maya and Punch) at the hotel we are back in Mumbai to ring in the New Year before we scatter off to different places. Kid and I to Dilli meri jaan, V to another year at his desk job and the Cousin and his parents to Singers for school and work. We leave behind Another brother and his wife and Girl Cousin who are playing wonderful hosts to our hosts of suitcases and laundry and general small children clutter. 

6. It was a big year for me. Even though only about 2.5 of you bothered to wish me (yes I am still M.a.d) time marched on and in mid July I turned the big 4-0. It was a return to the scene of my childhood and a visit to the apartment complex we lived in in Bangkok. New memories with the Kid and Cousin and all 4 adults in a city so old and yet so new. I loved every minute of the trip; from leisurely meals at some of the finest restaurants (the celebrated Gaggan which everyone raves about but didn't quite do it for me and Nahm for a Thai meal I will not forget in a hurry), to river side jaunts, the reverence and beauty of the reclining Buddha and the frantic bustle of Chatuchak. 

7. Turning 40 is a big deal. Yes it's just a number and all my peers are turning it too but I've been working my way up to it and reminding myself daily (for many years) that I would soon be 40in2015. I found something of a piece of myself and peace within myself this year. I am not one for the mumbo jumbo of soul searching but I felt that in the run up to it I found a lot of clarity in my life. A big part of this was letting go of angst and control over actions of others and my own feelings towards people and situations that I had no power to change. I feel like I am in a calmer space now. I live under no illusion of youth and fully accept that I am well into middle age and frankly it's a wonderful place to be. And so dear readers, happy birthday to me!

8. We made some important life decisions this year. Both inadvertently and purposefully (and not without some trepidation). One of those big decisions involved moving countries and leaving behind Cousin and aunt/ uncle, a school we adored and many friends we had grown close to in Singapore. In hindsight, and in spite of the teething difficulties of any move, it has been good for us. It was the right decision from many angles and it has brought to the forefront that despite the distance the boys remain close as brothers can be and that is something we can continue to foster with ease. I think my greatest lesson was about how a positive attitude can mean that difficult decisions often have surprisingly good outcomes.

9. One of the most surprising outcomes has been how much I love Hong Kong. I only ever really noticed the mid levels and Central and Causeway Bay till we actually decided to move. And to me they were a cleaner version of busy Mumbai; a jumble of buildings and people packed densely into an important centre of Commerce. I wasn't too keen, although I'm always up for an adventure. I decided we should give it a shot, adventures are the adrenaline of life and that I could learn to love it as I once had cold London. Surprisingly, (only to me) once here I quickly fell in love with how that Centre is but a snap shot of the city. It is predominantly lush and green, an interesting mix of history and modern day drama, wonderfully complex beneath the sharp edges of a bustling commercial Centre. I'm loving all the exploring and new facets to the city at each turn. 

10. The health report is mixed. My approaching 40 body decided to give my sloth like brain some shaking. As my mind grew lighter, more sure, more settled it was my body that began collapsing around it. A number of health issues crept up this year but they have been swiftly dealt with and now I am nearly back to an even keel.

11. This years introspection has brought to the fore an entirely new appreciation for how vivid and complex life is. From the refugee crisis to pollution and poverty to continued Gender inequality, there were many things to ponder, act upon and preach on behalf off. The adage every drop helps to make an ocean has never been truer. And while I try and live the best possible life I can and teach my child to go at the world gently and with kindness I find myself looking for practical solutions, everyday things that can be my 'drops'. So so many have been imbibed and learnt this year. I'm hoping 2016 is going to be a continuation, an education and enhancement to this way of life. Of one thing I am sure - there is far more good than evil, far more kindness than anger and far more people rooting for peace than strife. Now if only more people would see how their individual efforts could bring change, 2016 and the years beyond are bound to be safer, brighter and more peaceful. 

12. All that remains is to say that Christmas Day marked 14 years of marriage for V and I. It has been a wonderful journey and even in its rare moments of mild strife I have never for an instant regretted this life choice. In fact this year we have reveled in It and found a balance that bears marking. Unlike our London days with our bunches of tulips, homemade Pizza, bottle of wine and walk in the cold sunshine we celebrated by landing in Mumbai at 5am (many many hours late). We had a day of family and I had but a moment all day to reflect on how I did miss that old quiet life but equally loved this new laughter and love family-filled one. All that remains is to wish you and yours a wonderful and safe New Year celebration and a year of interesting and enjoyable experiences. Be kind and see you on the other side! 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Decorating decorating

I start and then I cannot stop. Here is what we have been up to where Christmas is concerned:

Ok this is not me but our building lobby. It all began one Sunday morning two weeks ago. The boundary wall was festooned with fairy lights and these beautiful pots of Poinsettias appeared all along the lobby. It all looked wonderful; festive and elegant without being over the top.

Then the next day a Christmas tree appeared in the lobby. Real and smelling all woodsy, with elegant red shiny baubles and fake red wrapped gifts all tied up in bows below it. Still good.

Then they came and ruined it with giant purple and acorn and silver and green trimmings and wreaths and gnomes and mini snow covered trees all over the available surfaces - along staircases and next to the plants and on the lobby desk and every wall....overdone and far too much clashing going on....

Meanwhile in Casa 30 (OK OK 40) we had begun our own decorating. I like to try and follow the philosophy of reuse and recycle and being makers. We don't get a real tree (we have enough opportunities to see those) and instead make one. It's been a few years since we began this and it's always been interesting as a process and not always beautiful. 

This year we used our TV box. We covered it with brown paper and then used washi tape to create the silhouette of the tree. Then green and white kitchen string with clear mounts and red green blue pins to hold them in place. 

All along the string are little Christmas tree shaped clips, holding in place pictures of people and places and events that have been important to us this year. Clips are a couple of years old: 

That's Mt. Everest base camp and a very excited V's hands in the air. You get the idea.

I can't show you the finished product on the blog but it looks pretty amazing with all the pictures on it. The washi tape is not symmetrical and that's because the tree was created mainly by a 6 year old (with some supervision and an opinion which leads him to shout 'don't help me, I can do it' at regular intervals). I think the final product looks pretty spectacular in a homemade way and the pictures have given us a chance to reflect on the year and all the changes that have come home tonour little family. 

In other parts of the house Christmas decorations have appeared all through December. Our lovely smiley Father Christmas is sat next to the lovely poinsettias that my friend M gave us. 

And the main cabinet in our dining room has this little decoration going on:

The baubles are table decorations I bought two years ago. The trees are a set from IKEA, bought this year - I thought they looked quite interesting. They have some silver bells on them that I have had for a few years. The ceramic ornaments I bought from a very talented woman in Singapore last year. We sent many of those to friends last year and these ones were left for us to use. 

Then today we created a table centrepiece. Fishbowl which we already had combined with a cheap packet of 'make your own snow with water', paper trees from a new multipack, small wooden Santa figurine and of course the ubiquitous Lego police man who completes everything: 

And of course our little wooden tree. It's been painted over a few times but we still love it. 

I find I am reluctant to buy new and buy more things whether it's Diwali or Christmas. I'm enjoying using what we have and repurposing things to be useful over a longer time period. It's the last few days of school before we close for the holidays. It's a busy time of year and the chilly Hong Kong weather is taking some getting used to. I'm having to bundle up after the years of flip flop living. The festive cheer in the air is certainly making it easier to bear the cold. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

When I don't set myself challenges...

...I get lazy.

List of random things:
1. My aunt and uncle celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. We couldn't celebrate with them as their plans to come celebrate in India were scuppered by ill health. But from here and all over India they were being sent love. The pictures of their celebration with my cousin B and his family in the US were lovely. I'm hoping we can celebrate in 2016.

2. Tomorrow, the 13th, is my cousin B's birthday. Join me in wishing her a very happy birthday. When sisters were being given out I won the ultimate prize. Have an amazing day. You keep me sane.

3. Our lovely two sided clock from the Rail museum in Delhi is giving up the ghost. The mechanism on one side is faulty and this is leading to some hilarious confusions with Kid who is just about learning to read the time. 

4. Kid had his Christmas concert last night. We lucked out with seats 3 rows back but right in front of him. Lots of waving when they got into their rows. It was amazing listening to the 1st and 2nd Graders singing and reciting poems and carols and songs. A gymnasium full of innocent and joyful and enthusiastic voices. It was just the right length (25 minutes for each Grade); a wonderful evening where for once I took no pictures or video (part of my technological paring down especially in his presence) putting nothing between myself and my child but my absolute attention and focus on him and his classmates. I'm happy to rely on the school recording, his memory of the evening and the burst of joy I saved in my heart. It was a gym full of pride and love and innocence - if one could package that it would be priceless. 

5. I'm clearly terrible with keeping up. I have a few drafts I'll get to soon but really in January I need a new plan. I'm thinking a picture a day and some writing to go with it. Pictures of my house, this city and my life. Any opinions? 

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Childhood traditions 1

In my childhood, and this is not just from my overactive imagination, my parents Nik and I sat down to eat at 6.30pm every weeknight. Of course for large chunks of time (sometimes months) my dad would be traveling or posted to a different city and then it was just us and mum. But when he was in town this was sacrosanct. 

He got back from work between 5.45 and 6. It was an age before mobile phones and the Internet so there was very little bringing of work home. Once he was home he was all ours. We got back from playing outside around 6. Everyone had a shower before dinner (beside mum who was cooking) and we all pitched in laying the table, getting water and cutlery and condiments. We sat down at 6.30 to eat. My mum cooked up delicious meals and dinner was served. Of course we complained that we had to eat so early and that we didn't have the standard dal chawal fare. Like all children, no matter how good it was, we found something to complain about. 

And yet, as a middle aged mother trying to forge small traditions in my own home, those dinners were one of the defining moments of my childhood. Our parents ate with us and we talked, being asked to tell them new or funny or interesting or annoying things that happened in school that day. And they entertained all our questions, told us stuff, encouraged discussions and generally laughed a lot. It wasn't a walk in a sunshiny bluebell field but it wasn't far off. Like any family we had days when any one or more of us were grumpy, stressed, bored, upset. But essentially we had mostly great meals. 

Like all families we had numerous little traditions and oddities. This however was the one that I hold most dear. Next time, new traditions we are forging. 

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Chennai my sweet

Chennai is quite possibly my favourite Indian city. And the floods are ravaging it as we watch helplessly from afar. My relatives have all marked themselves safe but no doubt there are many in peril. From pictures of the water touching the under bellies of planes to the sight of people wading through chest high water, the pictures all over the Internet are giving us a mere glimpse into how bad things are. Social media is helping coordinate some rescue efforts, call for supplies and show an outpouring of affection. It's hard to sit and wait for news and TV newsloops are not helping by dramatising a lot of the events instead of just reporting them. 

I'm sitting here colouring away, letting my worries control themselves by making my hands do stuff, like colour my lovely book and create our Christmas tree. Chennai you are in my thoughts. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2015


It began as a lark. I had read somewhere that colouring was the new 'thing' for adults and I thought it was a good 'joke' present. And every time I walked into a bookshop I would see displays of various complex looking colouring books for grown ups. So I gave my sister in law T and friend H each this book, the Secret Garden, as a parting-from-Singapore gift. As it was a buy 2 get something off the 3rd free I gifted myself a copy as well. And promptly forgot about it. 

Then my friend M came to visit in the early days of having moved into our Hong Kong apartment. I remember her talking about this book on Facebook and so I pulled it off the bookshelf and gave it to her. I hadn't had a moment to colour and I didn't see myself colouring so it was my pleasure to do so. But as soon as it was gone and I could see that gap in my bookshelf I DESPERATELY WANTED the book. I DESPERATELY WANTED to colour. Talk about juvenile. I thought I could shake it. 

Last week I went to a bookshop to buy the last two books for December Pie and saw a display of the colouring books - they seems to be procreating. Anyway, after a quick internal battle in which my juvenile side won, I got myself another copy of The Secret Garden. Ever since that evening Kid and I have spent 15 minutes before dinner colouring (with a timer as it's easy to get carried away). It's slow going (for one of us!) but we are having some great conversations over it. 

I'm not sure about therapeutic but I am certainly enjoying it more than I thought I would. I think I need new pens/ pencils. Also a steadier hand and a bit more imagination in my use of colours. Kid thinks he is a famous artist - no crisis of confidence there. I need patience. I guess that's a lesson I am likely to learn page by page.