Monday, March 10, 2014

To the city that changed me...

To DC, with love...

By Aswathy Kumar

I am a blogger or so I'd like to say every time someone asks me what I did. Maybe cos writing has always been one of my biggest passions or maybe simply because it sounded a lot cooler than a stay at home mother or even worse, a housewife.

It all started when my husband dropped this bombshell on me that we were shifting to Nairobi for three years. To be honest, I wasn't thrilled. I was to bid adieu to my home for the past 8 years and go from being a 24x7 working girl to a full time stay at home mom. 

'It will be fun,' he had promised guiltily.

And boy it was, making the next three years one of the best times of my entire life. And slowly my blog, ashwrites began to take form. There were so many places to see, people to meet, experiences to be shared and so much to write.

But very soon, it was time to move again. It was time for a new location, a new home and a whole new adventure. And though it was heartbreaking to bid farewell to our friends, I was excited for the new adventure that lay in front of me. An adventure called the U.S of A. I was ready and confident. After Nairobi, surviving the US was going to be easy...or so I thought.

But it wasn't. In fact, it was quite the opposite. My life went straight from chauffeur driven cars, uniformed nannies fussing over my little one and sipping garam chais and munching savory pakoras by the pool to sweeping, mopping, organizing play dates and scrubbing toilets. Very quickly I realized that here you couldn't just swish a wand and expect things to magically appear. And here the term, 'Hard work' took a whole new different meaning...

Two years passed by. We were only slowly learning to make peace with our cranky neighbor downstairs and see the beauty behind DC's brutal pinching winters. But it was time to move again. And this time it was the unexplored streets of Yangon that awaited our arrival. 

Life had taken a full 360 and here I was having breakfast in my lavish balcony watching sunrise with the monstrous Shwedagon Pagoda glistening in the backdrop, penning down article after article onto my blog.

'Serene, raw and spectacular city,....the land of golden pagodas,' I went on and on praising my new home. But every time I came up with all possible cliches I could think of to best describe Yangon, I couldn't help but sense a slight pinch of guilt starting to arise inside me. I stared at the pages that lay scattered around me, then back at my computer screen. It had pictures of me trying on the traditional longyi at Bogyoke market, posing with the traditional Myanmar umbrellas and amidst beautiful golden stupas. But it was hard to ignore the fact, that in my entire page, there wasn't a single word about the city that I had recently bid adieu to. There wasn't a picture...not even a tiny caption. It wasn't fair. It wasn't right.

So today, I sit here in my balcony, ignoring the beautifully landscaped lush green gardens and the view of the spectacular Shewdagon towering over, but instead reminiscing about the two years I spent in DC, thinking of the right words that I could use to best describe it.

But I have no words, no adjectives and no cliches. All I have is an image of a mother and her curly haired five year old daughter walking along a beautifully paved road. The designer shops and departmental stores aligning the road though closed, hardly appeared to be so, thanks to the glaring neon lights that shone from each one of them. It was late in the night and the roads had slowly started to clear. But neither the mother nor the child seemed to be in any hurry to rush back home. They stopped by each window to simply imitate a mannequin pose or make fun of an absolutely hideous outfit on display at Neimen Marcus. 

Their house was still three blocks away and the temperature was slowly starting to drop. But they hardly seemed to care about the steep road that laid ahead or notice the little droplets of ice settling in their hair. They were happy and unafraid as they slowly hopped around, humming Alyssa Bonagura's, 'I make my own sunshine..rather loudly, out of tune and words completely jumbled up. But here no body cared. Here they were free, here they were safe...

Okay maybe DC lacked the culturally vibrancy of the raw and serene savannah or the brilliant Myanmar. Maybe it was a city of suited bureaucrats, spectacled investment bankers and sweat-pant clad soccer mommies and maybe it did after all fail to inspire the writer in me. 

But in between the tedious metro runs, long queues at Costco and trips to play dates and whole foods I had forgotten to thank the city that had changed me in a way no city ever could. In a way, I thought I never could. A city that gave me a confidence that simply refuses to leave my side even during the worst of times. A strength, I never knew I had within and savor the sweet taste of freedom, that I never knew existed. 

So here's to DC, here's to freedom. 



Monday, March 3, 2014

Caught in a different kind of claustrophobia

From high end designer haute couture and quaint boutique stores to traditional eateries and budget street shops, the Causeway Bay, is rightfully termed the shopping Mecca of Hong Kong

By Aswathy Kumar

A shopoholics paradise, a one-stop shopping destination, a must-visit and what not! These where a few cliches I had heard before I decided to head out to the highly recommended and popular Causeway Bay. It was my first day in Hong Kong and my husband was busy attending a work meeting. I was left with a fussy 6 year old, a wallet stuffed with Hong Kong dollars and a view of a fabulous city skyline waiting to be explored. I was a writer (or so I'd like to say just cos it sounds so much cooler than a stay-at-home mom) and I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to tread the jam packed and pleasantly claustrophobic streets of Hong Kong.


As always, this time too I hadn't done my homework. I was in a city I knew nothing about; only seen pictures of it in fancy postcards and heard stories from globe trotting friends and there was now way I was going to spoil any element of surprise that came along with it. So you can imagine my astonishment when i mentioned Causeway Bay and my driver replied in two terms, 'Sogo' or 'Times Square.' I had no idea what he was talking about? 'Times square,' I hesitated. They name sounded familiar, option, a little safer. 

Now I had expected jam packed crowds, haphazard traffic and monstrous skyscrapers. My husband had prepared me well. What I did not expect was to walk into an enormous confusing and never ending maze of shopping malls, street bazaars, food markets and boutique stores. If you ever wondered how a shopoholics idea of heaven would look like? This was it, all stretched out mockingly in front of me. It was overwhelming, even for a pro like me. 'Hold onto mommy'' I told my daughter. 'We can do this.'

Though for a hassle free shopping experience, I could have stuck to Times Square (but I was in no mood to empty my bank account) or the more budget friendly Japanese departmental store Sogo, I decided to stick to the streets. 'Thats where all the city charm lies' I convinced my six year old as I dragged her little frame through the less crowded Paterson street that housed a few expensive, yet quaint and definitely worth exploring boutique stores in the city.

 A hidden treasure, The Jardine's Crescent houses a number of cheap street bazaars

One of the highlights of my trip to Causeway Bay was finding a hidden treasure called Jardine's Crescent, an array of cheap street shops lying hidden amidst the snootiness, glitz and glamour of the surrounding fancy malls. I had just finished a sumptuous Singaporean meal of Char Kway Teow at a food court in the nearby Hysan Place. I was a couple of hundreds down and was about to hail a taxi back to the hotel when I treaded upon this hidden wonder. 'Just what I needed,' I thought as I entered into the neatly packed roadside bazaar selling a variety of goods ranging from women's clothing, accessories to electronics and household items at incredibly low prices. Even though I hardly bought anything, it was sheer fun watching the enthusiasm in the shop owners faces as they displayed their products with great √©lan or watch a buyer trying his best to strike a good bargain. The market also had some decent street eats and an inexpensive flower market at the end of the road. 

From seafood, meats to spices and fresh veggies, the Causeway Food Market has it all 

One of my other favorite part of my entire visit was when I finally managed to land up in the Causeway Bay food market. I was a tourist here, my stay limited to just three days but being a homemaker, a food enthusiast and an expat wife who could shift base and land up in a home kitchen of any new country at any point in time, I get a strange sense of joy in seeing a food bazaar packed with different kinds of seafood, meats, spices and fresh veggies. 

  A prayer before the day begins

It was my first time at Causeway Bay and it was everything I had imagined it to be? Crazy, crowded and absolutely chaotic. But with all it's hidden treasures and charm, this was a kind of claustrophobia, I didn't mind getting trapped in over and over again.