Samarkand by Kala Pata

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I blogged about graphic designer Amreen Rahman’s stationery and accessory company launch, Kala Pata, in 2014. Since then, Amreen and I have become friends and I have seen her lovely family and her fantastic business grow! Next month, she will launch her second collection—Samarkand.

The collection is inspired by “the city of Samarkand which was at the heart of the Silk Route,” says Amreen. “The Silk Route was an ancient network of roads initially for trade, but quickly became the beacon of cultural and artistic exchange between the West and the East.”

Kala Pata’s products include lacquer boxes, trays, and oversize clutches (want!).

Kala Pata is currently stocked at Isetan Scotts, the Peranakan Museum gift shop, and Naiise.

Connect with Kala Pata on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Pinterest.

My Panjim with Chryselle D’Silva Dias

 

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Over the years, I’ve asked friends from around Asia, met through my online and offline adventures, to share their must-stop spots in South, East, and Southeast Asia’s great cities.

Today, welcome Chryselle D’Silva Dias, a freelance writer/journalist based in Goa, India. Her bylines have appeared in Time, BBC, The Atlantic, VICE, Scroll.in, The Guardian Weekly, Marie Claire India, Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal Asia, Silverkris, and Architectural Digest (India) among others.

And now, over to Chryselle…

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Panjim is Goa’s capital city, one that feels more like a charming over-grown town. The city is a curious mix of old and new, of heritage buildings and new structures with glass facades, of hole-in-the-wall joints that only the locals know about and contemporary cuisine that the world appreciates.

Must eats?

If you’re hungry in Panjim, head to one of the little eateries along every street, the one that seems unremarkable in its decor, or menu. If it is crowded with locals, that’s the place to eat. Whether it is for the staple fish-curry-rice or a mid-morning snack of pav-bhaji (freshly baked Goan bread with different types of gravies), traditional Goan restaurants are in a league of their own. I love Cafe Aram (18th June Road). Its chana-masala (chick-peas cooked in a spicy base) with puris (fluffy deep fried Indian bread) fills you up and leaves you perfectly sated.

For a meal, try the blink-and-you-might-miss-it Anandashram (31st January Road), a favourite lunch-time spot for commoners and politicians alike. Their fish thali is sumptuous and the queues waiting in the aisle for a table are testimony to its popularity.

A short distance away is the popular Confeitaria 31 De Janeiro, one of the oldest bakeries in town (31st January Road). Traditional Goan sweets and savoury snacks line the shelves in this tiny bakery. The freshly baked biscuits and cakes are tempting. Say hello to Gleta, the owner if she happens to be there when you visit.

Cream Centre near the Panjim market has the most delectable dessert – Gadbad, which literally means “mess.” The mess in question is a tall glass of several scoops of ice-cream, mixed with bits of fruit and nuts. A tall chunk of heaven, for sure.

If you’re looking for a change from traditional Goan food, head straight to Black Sheep Bistro (near Old Passport Office, off 18th June Road), my favourite contemporary restaurant in Goa. Their menu features farm-to-table recipes ensuring fresh food with a local twist (chorizo with chocolate, anyone?). Their cocktails are amazing as is their service and attitude. The owners Prahlad and Sabreen are friendly, professional and evidently love what they do. Which is why we love them too!

Must dos?

Panjim is a very walkable city so put on your comfy shoes and explore.

Dedicated to Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, or Nossa Senhora da Immaculada Conceição, Panjim Church is the city’s most iconic landmark. It is one of the oldest Christian shrines in Goa, and is believed to have been built in 1541. The four-tiered zigzagging stone stairway that leads up to it was added a good three centuries later in 1841. The magnificent bell in the belfry, at 2250 kg, is second in size only to the “Golden Bell” of the Sé Cathedral in Old Goa, and once belonged to the Monastery of St Augustine in Old Goa (whose ruins are well worth a visit when you are in Old Goa).

Check out the magnificent Azulejos in the Institute Menezes Braganza. These beautiful blue and white tiles depict scenes from Os Lusíadas, an epic poem by Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões. It tells the story of Portugal’s 15th- and 16th-century voyages of discovery. Goa was a Portuguese colony until 1961 and the azulejos are a work of art to be preserved and celebrated.

Walk around Fontainhas, Panjim’s charming Latin Quarter where time seems to stand still. The old houses and by-lanes are mostly well maintained and is lovely to walk through.

Must shops?

Marcou Artifacts (31 January Road) has pretty, traditional and sometimes humorous ceramic goodies for your home. From rooster-shaped bowls, sea-horses for your balcony wall or a Mario Miranda cartoon coaster, there’s something for every taste and budget here.

The mother-of-pearl windows that still adorn many traditional homes are increasingly difficult to find, but you can take home a shell-inspired souvenier or three. Shell chandeliers, necklaces and vases are popular, as are packets of the luminescent, disc-shaped “capiz.” (Try Shankwalkars, next to the Old Secretariat.)

Must art?

At the end of the 31st January Road, Gitanjali Gallery (31st January Road) is an increasingly important destination for local and national artists. Drop in to check out their latest exhibition and you might discover a new favourite. Owner Miriam Koshy Sukhija welcomes guests and is very knowledgeable about her work. A few hundred yards away (follow the little road to the left of the Gallery) is the elegant Fundação Oriente (Filipe Neri Road), now the permanent home to an impressive collection of paintings by António Xavier Trindade (1870-1935).

Goa is also home to the annual Goa Art and Lit Festival. This year, the festival will be from 10-13 December 2015 and speakers include popular authors, poets and international journalists.

Must Go?

Panjim is a fairly small city with promenades along the river and pavements (on most roads) for pedestrians and you can easily walk around. If your feet get weary (or the humidity gets to you), there are other ways to travel.

The yellow and black rickshaws are available at most corners and will take you in and around the city. Or hop on to a unique taxi service – the motorcycle taxi, which is exactly what it sounds like. These motorcycles with their “pilots” (as the drivers are called) have yellow and black number-plates and bright yellow mudguards which make them easy to spot. Public buses are available from the main bus stand and along the main roads, but not easy to find in the inner roads. For rickshaws and motorcycle taxis, do determine the price before you set off, to avoid any confusion at your destination. There are also traditional taxi services available but these tend to be more expensive.

(Additional credits: Photographs by Chryselle D’Silva Dias; photo layout via Pugly Pixel.)

My Hanoi with Quynh Nguyen of nightcactus

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Over the years, I’ve asked friends from around Asia, met through my online and offline adventures, to share their must-stop spots in South, East, and Southeast Asia’s great cities.

Today, welcome Quynh Nguyen, a Vietnamese-born Amsterdam-based freelance writer. She blogs about travelling, living abroad and #lifehack at www.nightcactus.net. You can also check out her work on her website, www.quynh.nl. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

And now, over to Quynh…

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Must eats? One thing I love about living in Hanoi is the snack time. After work and before dinner, I sometimes go out with my best friend for some nom, a salad made with green papaya, carrot and beef jerky mixed in a tangy fish sauce and topped with roasted peanuts. There is a little stall run by an old lady near the church on Ham Long Street. It has a plastic table and a few blue stools on the part of a pavement where you are not allowed to sell food officially. Whenever a police car drives past, we have to stand up and pretend that we are not eating there and that we are just two random girls holding up some random plastic plates. We keep coming back despite the trouble because her nom is so good: it is fresh and full of flavour. On those plastic stools, my best friend and I have shared countless stories about friends and family, the rivalry and the loved ones, or sometimes just random gossip.

As soon as the summer heat eases off, I go for lau, or so-called “hotpot”, in Quan Ngay Moi (New Day Restaurant) on Ma May street. They offer three types of soup base (standard, tom yum and spicy) with a large selection of toppings from seafood and freshwater fish to thinly sliced pork and beef. They serve leafy green vegetables, different kinds of tofu (fresh as well as cooked), and various mushrooms on the side. The ingredients are fresh and of high quality, and the staff are friendly and efficient. The restaurant offers other foods such as rice dishes and beer snacks. If I arrive at the restaurant starving, I order these snacks while waiting for the hotpot to be ready. They are also pretty good and reasonably priced.

Living in Hanoi has the luxury of a wide choice of pho (noodle soup), inarguably the most famous Vietnamese dish abroad. I love Pho ga chat Ton Duc Thang where they only do pho with chicken in thick chops including both bone and skin. Their chicken is tender and tasty while their broth is just perfect for the tongue, the nose and the eyes. They must sell at least fifty chickens per day because the restaurant is always packed whenever I go for a slurp or simply drive past. Even though I prefer pho with chicken, I do sometimes go to Pho Thin, a small and rustic restaurant near Hoan Kiem Lake, for its excellent pho bo, the beef version.

I like street foods because they are so yummy and they don’t fill you up too quickly. When I want to introduce Vietnamese street food to my foreign friends, I take them to one of the Quan An Ngon restaurants, which are on Tran Hung Dao Street or Phan Dinh Phung Street. Their concept is to bring different types of street food into a restaurant setting, which means that guests can sit on proper chairs and tables, instead of on tiny plastic stools by a busy street like at a typical street food stall. There, you can find everything from banh cuon (steamed rice crepes filled with minced pork and mushrooms) to banh goi (deep-fried pastries made with pork, vermicelli, mushrooms and sometimes eggs), all types of noodle soups: bun (rice vermicelli), mien (glass noodle) and pho (flat rice noodle), as well as che – a type of dessert made with beans, coconut milk, jelly and many other random ingredients, and served either hot or cold.

Must dos?

I like going for bia hoi (draught beer), and my favourite place is the bia hoi junction, where Ta Hien street meets Luong Ngoc Quyen street. It is very crowded with backpackers sitting right on the junction, but I do squeeze into the crowd when I am in the mood for people-watching. When I’m not, my boyfriend and I sit at a larger place about 50 metres away. The establishment includes ten to twenty plastic tables, setting up on the pavement outside a school. We park our motorbike inside the school and get a table, a few beer snacks and a lot of beer. The draught beer is made within the day at one of the breweries around town, and its alcohol level and quality vary widely. However, the main attraction of bia hoi is the taste of freshness on a summer evening. People, young and old, come to this place to unwind casually after a long hard day. It’s so full of life the way they drink, eat, talk and laugh away.

There is a blossoming cafe culture in Hanoi, where you can find many different styles of coffee shops from chic and modern (like Joma or Hanoi Social Club) to retro classic (like Cong Caphe or Cafe Lam). I like going to Cong Caphe, sitting on the floor by their low tables, and watching the coffee drips coming from the phin (the Vietnamese version of cafetière) into the glass.

Must sees?

The Old Quarter is something that you have probably read about in every guide to Hanoi, but you really must see it. I like to drive my motorbike very slowly through all the hang – a kind of street on which the shops historically sold only a single type of product. There used to be about 50 streets like that, but nowadays only a handful remain in their original form: selling incense sticks, spices, silver works, and lanterns etc. Each hang has their typical colour patterns and scents, which always give me a sense of nostalgia as I wander past.

I am generally not a big fan of mega malls, but I do find the newly built Royal City’s Mega Mall pretty impressive. The underground shopping mall covers a total area of 230,000 square metres. It has six hundred-and-something shops, two hundred-and-something restaurants, two movie theatres, a water park, and the most exciting thing: a full-size ice rink. When I last went, the majority of skaters were beginners, and it was so fun to watch tropical Hanoians giving it a try at a winter sport.

When I feel like taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the city life, I opt for visiting the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. It is located in one of the newly developed districts and is about 10km away from the centre. The main exhibition displays everyday objects from various ethnic groups, as well as their tribal art inside a modern structure. However, I most enjoy what lies outside the main building . Here are examples of traditional village houses, such as a house on stilts or a long commune cottage. I find it fascinating to learn about the different ways of living that are so close to my birthplace, but somehow so remote to me.

Must art?

I still remember the first time my parents took me to see water puppets. I was ten and seeing the colouring puppets moving in the water was like magic. Adults also find water puppets fun and graceful so grab a show at the Municipal Water Puppet Theatre if you have never seen it. For more modern forms of art, I go to the Jazz Club on Quan Su, chilling with a glass of wine and listen to the live band. Or else, Hanoi Opera House has many big gigs of well popular singers and bands. I also go there for the venue, which is absolutely gorgeous.

Must gos?

I get around Hanoi on a scooter because it is a fast and convenient way to manoeuvre around busy roads. I sometimes take the bus, especially to go to the new part of town, like Cau Giay or Thanh Xuan districts. There the roads are wide, busy and dusty so the bus could be a temporary safe haven on a very hot day. Taxis are plenty in Hanoi, especially around the centre. The fare is quite reasonable, especially with smaller taxis like Van Xuan. I would take Mai Linh sometimes because their service is probably the best in the city, but they are not cheap. If you want to take a taxi, make you sure you learn the names of some big taxi companies so you can recognize them. There are a lot of scams so even if the brand looks familiar, you should always check if the car has a proper meter reader running.

(Additional credits: Photographs by Quynh Nguyen; photo layout via Pugly Pixel.)

Octoburst! 2015

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In 2014, I wrote, “Octoburst! impressed me through and through and I wish we had made time for more performances, both paid and [free], and a workshop or two. I won’t make the same mistake in 2015!” So, earlier this year, when tickets went on sale for this year’s festival, I grabbed a bunch.

On Sunday, my family and I attended two ticketed performances and one free performance as part of Octoburst! 2015: A Children’s Festival, to celebrate Children’s Day. We saw:

  • “Casa” by La Baracca-Testoni Ragazzi (ticketed). I rarely purchase tickets to overseas shows staged in Singapore and prefer to spend my money on locally- or regionally-produced programming in order to support Singapore’s arts’ ecosystems. But the local producer of La Baracca-Testoni Ragazzi’s works at The Esplanade personally urged me to watch, so I did! La Baracca-Testoni Ragazzi was founded in Italy in 1976, and has been at the forefront of innovative and imaginative children’s theatre since. “Casa,” a play about a child and adult who build a house and home together, had a strong story structure, a minimalist set, and profound meaning. Actors Andrea Buzzetti and Carlotta Zini performed with great emotional and physical exactness, and exceptional beauty. And the play session at the close of the play was utterly delightful. “Casa” was truly world class children’s theatre, and we’re glad we attended.
  • “The Mouse Deer and The Alligator” by Ethnic Shadows (free). Through the traditional art form of Wayang Kulit Kelantan, Indonesian shadow puppetry, Ethnic Shadows shared the story of how the cunning mouse deer tricked the alligators in order to cross the river. Formed in 2012, Ethnic Shadows was founded by two drum and percussion enthusiasts/Dikir Barat activists. Ethnic Shadows has very little social media presence, but all their instructors have worked closely with the Malay Heritage Centre and have conducted Wayang Kulit and Dikir Barat workshops and performances.
  • “Dance Appreciation Series: Introduction to Swan Lake” by Singapore Dance Theatre (ticketed). “Introduction to Swan Lake” featured excerpts of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. The excerpts were the perfect length for even the youngest audience members, even if Janek Schergen, Singapore Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director, was a bit long winded with his explanations. And for SG$13.00 per ticket, we had the opportunity to sit in the third row (stall) of Esplanade’s glorious concert hall. From this vantage point, my child was dazzled by the grace and athleticism on display. However, at this distance, I was also able to see the unevenness of and the lack of precision in many of the company dancers, which was rather disappointing.

We also spent the afternoon wandering the Esplanade grounds, enjoying the various craft activities and play areas. Of note was the “Pipe-ful Play Garden” in the Courtyard Green, which invited participants to construct an ever-growing pipe-maze for all to play with.

Binary Style

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I’m often asked, usually by fellow Americans in Singapore, for ideas for souvenirs for friends and family back home. More often than not, I usually recommend books set in Singapore and/or by Singaporean authors. Other items on this list: ceramics, photographs, stationery, and clothing and accessories, all inspired by Singapore…

… which is how I stumbled upon Binary Style, a line of scarves designed by Santhi and Sari Tunas, Indonesia-born, architect twins now based in Singapore. Those of you who know me IRL know that I’ve never met a scarf that I didn’t like. While traveling, my favorite silk scarves have served as shawl, belt, head-wrap, stuffed toy swaddle, and doll sling. Of Binary Style’s inaugural collection, I particularly liked (from top to bottom): “A Rainy Day in Singapore,” “Keppel Port,” and “Canoeing Day in McRitchie.” Their other designs are lovely too, but rather predictable and/or literal.

The Tunas’ sisters wares retail for SG$50.00 to SG$75.00 and are currently sold online at HipVan Singapore.

Follow Binary Style on Instagram.

Playeum: The Children’s Centre for Creativity

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While we loved KidsSTOP, I did wonder why it reminded me of many children’s museums we had been to in the United States (namely The Children’s Museum of Manhattan). And I discovered that JRA (Jack Rouse Associates), a group of writers, planners, designers, media producers and project managers based in Cincinnati, Ohio, provided master planning, concept design, and schematic design for this groundbreaking project, and are the firm behind a number of children’s museums in the U.S. and elsewhere. No wonder I liked this familiar thing!

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Though #sghaze has receded some, we spent the afternoon indoors in a creative play space that is nothing like I’ve ever seen before. Playeum: The Children’s Centre for Creativity is an organization with whom I have collaborated, and now it has a permanent space in Gillman Barracks. Playeum is designed to encourage children ages one to twelve to play via installations, hands-on exploration, creative interactions, workshops, and a rotating slate of exhibitions.

Playeum’s first exhibition, timed to coincide with the F1 Grand Prix, is The Art of Speed, which “allows inspiration to travel in all directions.” The Preschooler especially enjoyed the “Create for Speed” installation, where she experimented with cars and ramps of different shapes and sizes with much joy, and “Shadow Play” in the Dark Space by artist Isabelle Desjeux, where she played with light and movement with innovative props that cast enchanting shadows. The Main Space also includes a soft play area for babies and toddlers, and the Play Maker Space features household and recycled objects, along with simple materials like tape, string and rubber bands, where children have the freedom to create their own movable objects. (The Preschooler made a train car.)

The Art of Speed runs until April, but Playeum will also be conducting other special activities such as art jams (which I’ve been invited to program for), “Tinkering Sundays,” and holiday camps. So, yeah, we’ll be back! This is a really special space, and I wish co-foundered Jennifer Loh and Sumitha Pasupathy much success!

Playeum is a little costly per child ($20.00), but an accompanying adult is FREE. (Additional adults are $10.00.)