My favourite movies and songs of 2015 – Year end post Part 2

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To read the first part of my year end post series, go here.

Favourite Movies

English

Inside Out – There was so much intelligence in the story and so much heart in the execution that it would be an understatement to say I loved this movie. The best animated English movie of the year for me. Also, who else was obsessed with the “Lava” short that aired before the movie? The Lava song has been playing in our house for a while now and occasionally I catch Sid humming along – that is always a good sign!

Ex-Machina –  I was very sceptical before we saw the movie primarily because the whole “robots + AI = End of Humans” plot has been rehashed so many times that finding novelty in these movies is not easy. However, not only did Ex-Machina break new ground, it also featured possibly my most favourite dance of the year (Ok, tied jointly with Drake’s Hotline Bling). Alicia Vikander was brilliant in her portrayal and the movie left me feeling slightly scary about the amount of technology we have surrounded ourselves with.

Jurassic World – An actress who could rival Bolt whilst running in heels , dinosaurs you can root for and Chris Pratt. Enough said!

Spy – I just realized that there are very few good comedies I have seen over the past few years. And I can watch anything from Woody Allen to Kevin Hart. So, imagine my joy when I saw Spy. I laughed so hard during some scenes that Sid had to literally hold me from falling off the seat. Melissa McCarthy’s Susan Cooper was funny yet endearing and her chemistry, especially with Rose Byrne produced some of the most laugh out loud moments of the movie.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – I have developed a bit of a soft spot for Tom Cruise movies recently. Partly, thanks to my action movie loving husband and partly because his movies are actually quite good even if you discount the daredevilry and stunts.

(Movies that I also liked but not as much as some others did)

Bridge of Spies – Now, I need to throw it out there that I love Tom Hanks as much as everybody else – he is niceness personified, but excuse me for leaving the theatre a bit disappointed after watching the Cold War drama Bridge of Spies. This was a Spielberg movie and had potential to be so much more. Yet, it became a really good (but not great) spy drama. I wanted a bit more depth and a little less simplification.

The Martian – All the reviews I had read were praising this movie to the nines and it deserves most of that praise. However, I love science and a bit more of that would have elevated the movie for me. I understand that Interstellar suffered some backlash for having “too much physics” but this one had too little for me. I later read online that the movie stayed quite true to the book and hence some of the audience reactions were unfair, so I take some of my criticism back. Matt Damon was awesome though!

Black Mass – The best Johnny Depp movie I have seen in a very very very long time. Engaging and very Scorcese-like in some parts, I found myself invested in all the characters and thoroughly enjoyed the movie.

Avengers: Age of Ultron – I really like all the actors in the cast – especially Mark Ruffalo and RDJ. The movie was a bit meh but the acting, as always, elevated the movie.

Telugu

Baahubali  – I have long maintained that S.S. Rajamouli is too talented for his movies to not have a wider audience. So I was very excited, yet nervous when Baahubali became this beast of a movie with nationwide release. I am glad that it was received so well because we need more movies with historical context that delve into our culture’s rich legacy. I am also glad I saw the movie in Telugu because it felt more authentic. I later saw the movie in Hindi when it was aired on TV and it did not feel the same. The dialogues were too contrived for my liking, so if you have the patience I would recommend watching it in Telugu (with subtitles).

Hindi

Talvar – My favourite Hindi movie of the year. A tough story to tell, considering how recent it is in everyone’s memory. Props to the director for being unapologetic in taking the parents’ side because otherwise the movie would have no moral ground to centre itself on and would have played out more like a fact narrating session. Bollywood, please give Irrfan Khan more opportunities – he can single-handedly make a scene hundred times better.

Piku – When I first saw the movie, I loved it. Except for Amitabh Bachchan’s portrayal of a hypochondriac Bengali father. His accent felt off to me and his acting a bit forced at times. But, that was a minor gripe. On re watching the movie a couple of more times his performance did not grate on me so much. Deepika was the star of the movie with a brilliant performance to add to her already overflowing kitty of achievements. Her chemistry with Irrfan was another pleasant surprise.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan – I have a tough time with Salman Khan – both the actor and the person. For the most part, I do not enjoy his movies or acting but Bajrangi Bhaijaan was an exception. I liked the movie more for the novelty of its story, the wonderful child-actor Harshali and its broader message of niceness and kindness. I cringed at the climax but given the overall enjoyability of the film, I am going to let that pass. On a side note, why is Kareena not doing more films with better parts? She is way too talented to relegate herself to parts that do not do justice to her acting prowess.

Dum Laga Ke Haisha – While I could dwell on how refreshing it was to see a movie that celebrated its female protagonist’s weight in a realistic way, that would be diminishing the other important themes running parallel in this gem of a movie. From depicting a son’s struggle to stand up to his overbearing father to sportingly mocking the entire arranged marriage process, Dum Laga Ke Haisha stayed true to its roots – even when it broke into song by channelling the 90’s.

Tanu Weds Manu Returns – Imperfect yet entertaining, the second instalment of  TMR introduced us to one of the most charming and lovable female characters in a while – Datto. I don’t think the movie would have been as good without her. Be prepared to be frustrated with unanswered questions as to the character’s actions and choices throughout the movie, but it is a good sign because it shows you are invested in the characters. Kangana Ranaut is unbelievably good.

Note: Lots of highly buzzed about movies such as  Joy, Concussion, Room, Spotlight, The Danish Girl release in January in Singapore so this list is due for some editing in the near future. I have also not seen Court which is India’s official entry to the Oscars and Masaan. 

Favourite Songs

This is going to be a very long list. Pardon me for not being decisive enough to narrow this down but I listen to music quite a bit – usually the more popular and mainstream music anyway, so I needed to give myself a free reign. The list is in no particular order.

  • Hotline Bling – Drake

  • Adele (no explanation needed)
  • Let It Go and Hold Back The River – James Bay ( We i.e. Sid and I accidentally stumbled upon this artist and he quickly became a favourite)

  • Want To Want Me  – Jason Derulo
  • Can’t Feel My Face – The Weeknd
  • Sugar – Maroon 5 (My love for Adam Levine just grows)
  • Stitches – Shawn Mendes
  • Shut Up And Dance – Walk The Moon (I can’t help but dance while listening to this song)

  • Like I’m Gonna Lose You – Meghan Trainor ft. John Legend
  • Runnin’ – Naughty Boy ft. Beyonce (I am surprised this song and video did not become more popular)

  • Worth It – Fifth Harmony ft. Kid Ink
  • Biscuits and Dime Store Cowgirl- Kacey Musgraves (I had written in my Year End Post -2013, how much I liked Kacey Musgraves’ music.)
  • Soundtrack of Piku
  • Soundtrack of Tamasha (I especially loved the song Wat Wat Wat. The movie was a royal mess though)
  • Chains and Jealous- Nick Jonas
  • Photograph – Ed Sheeran
  • On My Mind and Love Me Like You Do – Ellie Goulding
  • Style and Wildest Dreams – Taylor Swift
  • Lean On – Major Lazer and DJ Snake

In summation, I thought 2015 was a meh year for movies while the music was more entertaining. Let me know if there are any good movies or songs I missed out on watching.

Hope you are all getting on with your year end party planning and secret santa gift exchanges. I am off now to start writing about what made the headlines in 2015 and my three cents on it. Should be interesting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Films, Life, Movies, Year End Posts | 3 Comments

Things I loved in 2015 – Year end post Part 1

Is it too early for this kind of a post? 2015 has been such an interesting year that the moment December started, my blogging itch was in full force. I usually do one year end post but I wanted to break it down in parts this time around to cover more ground. So, this post is going to be a list of random things I loved (love is a strong word, but I am going to use it liberally in this post) in 2015.

Youtube

I can’t remember the last time I flipped through my TV to watch a show. If I am bored or am in the mood to watch something, I just go on Youtube. From music videos to chat show interviews to make-up tutorials to funny gags – the quality of content can be consistently better depending on what you choose to see. Plus, it is entertainment on demand – you can watch it anywhere, any time as long as you have Wi-Fi.  Here are some of my favourite YouTube channels

  • Yoga with Adrienne – for single handedly getting me to use that yoga mat which was lying in the store room. I started off with her 30 days of yoga challenge and really enjoyed it.
  • || Superwoman || – Seriously, who doesn’t love Lilly? She is all kinds of cool and awesome.
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – For some straight up, ballsy humour that tackles issues I am ashamed to admit I sometimes know very little of.
  • The Ellen Show – I have laughed and cried hysterically watching Ellen’s show. It is tough to find genuine kindness in today’s day and age so a little bit of Ellen goes a long way. Plus, those adorable kids who come on her show are goals!
  • Kaushal Beauty – I often stumble around youtube trying to find Indian beauty gurus so imagine my delight when I found this channel. Although Kaushal is a British-Indian, she does plenty of Indian wedding, festival make up tutorials to have me hooked.

  • Zoella – Great beauty, lifestyle channel all around. And Zoella is the cutest!
  • KathleenLights – Insightful and sometimes hilarious – Kathleen is one of my favorite youtube stars. Check our her channel for drugstore makeup options.

 

Blogs/Websites

I can read blogs all day long if I had to. Is there a job somewhere that would pay me to just read and comment on blogs? Trust me, I would be great at it. This year I ventured out of my comfort zone of reading travel or personal blogs to more community-oriented websites. Here are some of my favorite finds

  • xoVain and xoJane – These sister-sites are bloody brilliant. xoVain is centred more around beauty and makeup whereas xoJane covers a wide spectrum of issues. I have found so many interesting articles and viewpoints on these sites that I am worried I might run out of reading all their stuff quicker than they can post new ones.
  • ViviannaDoesMakeup – While Vivianna also has a fairly popular YouTube channel, I find myself reaching out for her blog more. She writes effortlessly and beautifully about everything , even candles and perfumes which are hard to put across in words.
  • Caroline Hirons – I have spoken extensively about how this blog changed my skincare game in an earlier post but I can’t stress enough how much I owe my vastly improved skin to simply following Ms. Hirons’ rules. Every girl/woman should bookmark this site.
  • The Blogess – Straight up, one of the funniest writing on the internet.
  • Crusoe – The Celebrity Dachsund – Travel and dogs, two of my favourite things in one place.

 

Podcasts

So, I am quite late to the podcast party (In my defence, I wasn’t really invited), but thanks to a post from Pioneer Woman, I decided to take the plunge with ‘Serial’. Little did I realize that it would consume an entire weekend and force me to make a pitch to my husband to listen to it too. In fact, I re-listened to some episodes with him just to see how he would react to some of the things.

Serial got me researching on what else existed in the podcast universe and after a bit of trial and error I found some really good ones

  • Serial – (mentioning again for the record) Do go and give it a listen. It is sad and disheartening at times, but like everyone else the facts of the case kept me thinking for a long time. I can’t wait for Season 2.
  • Call your Girlfriend – Two long-distance besties talking about everything under the sun is the perfect idea for a podcast. It reminds me so much of the conversations I have with my sister (who is also my best friend and my unofficial first-born – she will always be a kid to me) that starts on one topic and before we know it we have covered everything from tennis to fashion to Bollywood gossip. Thank you Whatsapp voice call 🙂
  • This American Life – I have a lot of catching up to do because this show has so many episodes but I started off with this list and thoroughly enjoyed learning about everyday American things.
  • The Mystery Show – Slightly offbeat mysteries are uncovered in each episode. It isn’t a standard ‘here’s a crime, here are the facts, let’s investigate’ sort of a show but more about getting to understand the story behind why some things mystify us and capture our imagination unlike other things.
  • Criminal – I recently started listening to it and so far I am liking it. It doesn’t have the depth of Serial but if you are into this genre, this is worth giving a listen.

I would love to get some more suggestions – I commute for an hour every day and I am tired of listening to my playlist, so hit me up with recommendations in the comments below.

 

Cooking/Baking

I am an above-average cook, I have always been. But, over the past one year cooking has become therapeutic to me. I feel stress-free when I get into my cooking, especially after ‘one of those’ days at work. The one site that has changed my life is Veg Recipes of India. It is the next best thing to calling your mum for quick recipe breakdown! I have also been loving the BBC Good Food website for non-Indian food inspiration – their baking section in particular is amazing.

A new addition to our kitchen has been the Nutribullet. I had read so much about it that when we visited the electronic store, I bought it on a whim. This bad boy has literally changed our life. We eat so many more fruits and vegetables thanks to the blending magic of Nutribullet. It preserves nutrition and fibre from your fruits/veggies much much better than a mixer grinder or regular blender. My mother loved it so much when she visited us for a week, that she bought one herself too.

I am thinking of doing a post exclusively around my adventures in the kitchen but am resisting it since I seem to be veering into some serious domestic life territory here, but I just might!

Hikes and walks

It is easy to quickly run out of ‘traditional’ things to do in Singapore given the size of the place but it is equally amazing to find new things to do in the Lion City as long as you keep an open mind and/or  Google a hundred variations of ‘cool stuff to do in Singapore’. One of the best parts about living in Singapore is that if you like the outdoors you will never get bored because there are beautiful parks near every neighbourhood. They are full of greenery and water bodies and well-marked walking trails. Whenever we feel like we are being too lazy, we just explore a new walking trail or hike and it instantly lifts up our mood. We do it at our own pace and ensure our mobile phones are tucked away so that we I am not instagramming  the hell out of every flower. (on a side note, how is instagramming not a word yet? )

Writing

It might not seem like I have been writing a lot given the status of my published posts but I have an overflowing drafts folder that I need to clean up. Between working, laziness, distractions, reality television etc.,  I have not finished a lot of pieces. Some of them might not even be relevant any more but I need to attend to it. On the bright side though, I have written more consistently on my travel blog – The Round Trip Ticket, which you should check out, if you haven’t. If you prefer pictures to text, then you can follow our travel adventures on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/theroundtripticket/

I have also written a lot of mails this year. A lot! That counts too, you know.

So here are some of the new things I (re)discovered and enjoyed in 2015. Would love to hear what you were enjoying this year in the comments below. Happy December!

PS: I have started a draft of my favourite movies/tv shows/music of 2015 and am realizing there weren’t a lot of good movies this year. Am I missing something?

PPS: It is super hot in Singapore. In December. This should not surprise me but with Christmas trees and lights and snowflakes – yes snowflakes, being put up everywhere, the irony is not lost on me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Life, Year End Posts | 1 Comment

Day Trip to Wachau Valley | Wine Tasting in Austrian Countryside

Vienna. Summer. Bliss.

Only this time around Europe witnessed one of its worst ever heat waves and the two luckiest folks in town aka Sid and I happened to be bang in the middle of it. So, when our friend suggested a day trip to Wachau Valley filled with wine tasting and scenic views of the Austrian countryside we jumped faster than the rate at which our sunblock tube was being emptied. We booked a guided cycling tour through Vienna Explorer and on a warm sunny July morning set off for Wachau Valley.

 

The tour involves travelling by train to the city of Krems, from where the entire tour group picked up bikes. Now, I am always first to admit that I am not the most athletic person in any sample size but the idea of cycling brought a smile to my face. I last rode a bicycle almost 8 years ago so nostalgia engulfed me when I picked a bike, put on the helmet and took position. It is another thing that this nostalgia was of no use when I struggled to bike up an incline and was at a loss for breath even as people twice my age swiftly bypassed me! But, in the morning, all fresh and fed as I stood outside the bike parking garage, I felt like I could cycle like Lance Armstrong (is there a better role model I could insert here?) Once everyone was ready, we were ably led by our tour leader onto the streets of the small town and our journey to the beautiful vineyards of Wachau started.

Picture Perfect - views like this greeted us at regular intervals in Wachau

Picture Perfect – views like this greeted us at regular intervals in Wachau

As we slowly made our way out of Krems and into the countryside, fresh crisp air greeted us. We were flanked by beautiful terraced fields on one side and the Danube on the other. We stopped at our first wine tasting after about 30 mins of cycling. We got to taste quite a few varieties of wine although such a thing is lost on me. I can’t figure out how people shake the wine, talk about clarity, taste and texture. The fact that I managed to finish my wine glass was an accomplishment in itself.  Plus, given my threshold for holding alcohol, I don’t think the group would have appreciated a drunk woman on a cycle humming Bollywood songs (alcohol makes me desi like nothing else can). Sid and our friends definitely had a better appreciation for the wine and the unique classification system that wine in Wachau region follows.

Terraced gardens en route Wachau

Terraced gardens en route Wachau

We set off on our bikes for the next leg of our journey which took us to the beautiful medieval town of Durnstein. I fell in love with the cobbled streets, quaint coffee houses and cafes and the lovely houses that dotted the roads. A part of our group decided to hike up to the Durnstein Castle which overlooks the town and offers magnificent views but Sid and I chose to stay back and explore the town. There are lots of souvenir shops that sell key-chains, postcards and other such knick knacks. But, we ended up picking a bottle of apricot jam! Now, apricots are very famous in this part of Austria and you will find them in everything from chocolates to Brandy but I can vouch for the jam we bought – it was delicious. After leisurely strolling through the town, the group got together to have lunch in one of the restaurants. Even restaurants in Durnstein feel like they have been designed by an art director. Set in a garden amidst beautiful plants with wooden tables and chairs, a meal in this setting was thoroughly enjoyable. Being vegetarian, we had one option on the menu so good thing we packed some stuff earlier in the day but if you eat meat then dig in into the Schnitzels!

Durnstein - a beautiful medieval town in Wachau valley

Durnstein – a beautiful medieval town in Wachau valley

With our tummies full, we picked up our bikes to go to our second wine tasting. I don’t know if it was the lunch break or my lack of fitness, I struggled to bike during this part of the journey but thanks to the constant heckling encouragement from my friends I managed to make it to the Mang Family Weingut winery. The place has a large garden with lovely outdoor seating – perfect to soak in the sun with some wine. When you have friends and great wine for company, you don’t need much else but a place like this doesn’t hurt!

The outdoor seating at The Weingut winery in Wachau [Image courtesy of Mang Hermenegild]

The outdoor seating at The Weingut winery in Wachau
[Image courtesy of Mang Hermenegild]

It was time now for us to make our way back to Krems. But, the trip wasn’t over yet. We cycled along the Danube and then took a detour to a nice little beach where the group was invited to take a dip. We obliged happily and dipped our feet in the cool pleasant water after what had been a tiring but exhilarating day.

If you happen to be in Vienna for more than 3 days, I would highly recommend taking a day out to visit Wachau valley. It offers a glimpse into what life in the countryside looks like. We don’t get to cycle that often so that was an adventure we enjoyed thoroughly as well. The views are beautiful, the wine is delicious and the cycling is fun. A perfect outing if you ask me!

Nothing like a glass of fine wine from Wachau's famed vineyards.

Nothing like a glass of fine wine from Wachau’s famed vineyards. Can you spot me?

 

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What I’d tell my younger college going self

This post is going to be a bit random. One of those kind that I used to write a lot back in college. Come to think of it, the inspiration for this piece comes from my younger college self who wrote about everything from relationships to animals to doing something for the society at large. As I browse through my blog I realize how much I have changed as a person. Am I more mature and well-aware and knowledgeable and patient – a resounding yes! But I am also not as forthcoming, open and intuitive in my writing. My earlier posts were not great pieces by any standard. But, even today when I read them I can’t help but smile. There was an innocence and openness about those posts that I seem to have lost touch with. My words are more measured now and a lot more thought goes into what I say and how I say it. I guess this is what growing up means. But, this trip down memory lane was fun in a strange way. It brought back memories, albeit faded ones, about how I looked at things, people and issues 8-9-10 years ago. I am not one for regrets, but I am also not one who would not want to change some things if given an opportunity. So now that I have set the context, here are some things I wish I could tell the younger, more naive Namrata:

1. Do not be ashamed or embarrassed to be yourself: When I first joined college, I was not quite sure of how to be. Reserved or boisterous, dress up or dress down, talk to people freely or take my time. No matter what option I chose, I was never certain. I guess this is a typical 17 year old problem but I wish someone had told me to not worry so much about how I came across. After all, everyone else around you is of the same age and going through the same things.

Channel your inner Zooey Deschanel - if that's who you are.

Channel your inner Zooey Deschanel – if that’s who you are.

2. There is huge world outside of college, don’t forget that: It is very easy to get caught up in college life. Apart from academics, you have college activities, hostel life, new friendships, boys to crush on etc. Living in a college is like living in a bubble. What people say within campus starts becoming more important than it should be and one starts to second judge one’s own instincts. It is thus essential to step out once in a while. Talking to parents or school friends can be a great way to disconnect from college life. Joining a class outside campus or volunteering somewhere can help you make friends who do not go to the same college and are hence insulated from judging you based on any gossip or rumour. Expand your circle and network and I don’t mean on Facebook!

3. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; don’t be afraid to apologize: In college, you say tons of stuff – sometimes under peer pressure, sometimes to hide your own insecurities, sometimes for fun – but if it comes to your attention that you hurt someone, say sorry. Making mistakes is part of being human and there is no shame in it. If you feel in your gut that what you did or said was wrong, apologize. Meet the person whom you might have intentionally or otherwise hurt and say sorry. Or, drop an e-mail or text. But do mend fences and say your peace. How the other person chooses to respond is beyond your control but doing the right thing can never be wrong. I distinctly remember doing this in my final year of college and feeling good about it. I wish I had done it sooner though.

Take a note from Ms. Tina Fey's book

Take a note from Ms. Tina Fey’s book

4. Don’t be too judgemental College is for many people their first foray into the real world outside the sheltered confines of their home. You will meet people from different backgrounds and cultures. This is the best part about college. So, try to get out of your comfort zone and talk to everyone. If you like someone, become friends irrespective of what anybody else thinks. Try to give time to people before forming an opinion about them. Remember how you would feel if someone were to judge you based on a sporadic event. Also, let go of your biases. Especially those that are insensitive.

Don't be ignorant or judgemental.

Don’t be ignorant or judgemental.

5. Make the best of every situation: Despite your best efforts, there will be hiccups in your college journey. You might not do well in a test or get into a fight or fall prey to some nasty rumour. While these incidents will effect you and cause you to drown your sorrows by watching more tv shows than you usually would, learn to look at them a bit more positively. People tend to have short memories so face every challenge head on and don’t bother too much about what others say or think. Your true friends will stick by you no matter what. And if they don’t, you can always burn them with your awesomeness!

There's nothing that some good ol' positive attitude can't solve

There’s nothing that some good ol’ positive attitude can’t solve

6. Don’t take matters of the heart to your heart, so much so that they fill you with negativity. College is very rarely the right place or time to take decisions about love, life and marriage. Sure, there will be exceptions but not every friendship is meant to turn into something more. So, don’t get heartbroken if a relation doesn’t work out or lose sleep if you reject someone’s feelings. Be considerate and honest about other’s feelings but not at the expense of your own.

Don't be a child!

Don’t be a child!

7. Have more fun: Man, I wish I had had more fun in college. I wish I had let loose and not be reserved. I am not saying being reserved by nature is a bad thing, some people do tend to take more time to come out of their shell. But don’t let that become a recurring excuse. In my case I sometimes held back deliberately, so looking back now I feel an extra dose of recklessness on my college resume wouldn’t have been such a bad thing.

Shake it off - shake it off

Have tons of fun and definitely wear sunglasses when dancing in the rain

But more than any of the above mentioned points, the one thing I would love to drill into the mind of my younger self would be to cherish every memory. College is a unique experience – unique for everyone who joins with you and grows with you. Take in all those moments – good, bad, sometimes ugly, sometimes exhilarating and bundle them all into a small space in your brain and heart. You might not always need them but knowing that they exist is always a comforting thought. And fodder for posts on your blog!

*All gifs used in this post are courtesy of Giphy.

Posted in Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A guide to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

“This feels just like India”, were the first words to come out of my mouth as we made our way out of the bustling Ta Son Nhat international airport in Ho Chi Minh city. The mad rush of traffic, lights, sounds everything reminded me of India. So, it is no surprise that I felt right at home! It was a bit different for my husband though who has lived out of India for a long time now and prefers order to chaos. But, there is a strange beauty and energy to this chaos as well – and that is something that only people who have lived or are living in cities in developing countries will appreciate. It is an acquired taste, if you will. Our friendly cab driver gave us a crash course in the current happenings in HCM and seemed very fascinated by Bollywood and the Indian education system. Talk about covering both ends of the spectrum! In all my travels so far, Bollywood has sort of been the conversation starter on many occasions. I think I will start using that as a standard response to questions posed in unfamiliar languages on my travels henceforth.

We stayed at Nikko Saigon which is a great hotel if you want to avoid the city centre. Taxis are available right at the hotel so travelling within the city was never an issue for us. There is also a mall attached to the hotel which makes it easier to give directions to cab drivers. Plus, it is a Japanese establishment so we said hello to our dearly missed and oft remembered Toto. We had no complaints from the hotel and would highly recommend it. There are lots of hotel options closer to the city centre but it is also a lot more crowded and noisier there, so, it boils down to individual preference.

We usually plan our travels extensively – from things to see and do to where and what should we eat, but this time around we decided to just wing it! Equipped with a city map and loads of sunscreen we started our day with a French breakfast in a cafe near our hotel. French occupied several parts of this area till early 1950s so there are lots of quaint and cosy cafes in the city that serve great croissants, sandwiches and baked goods along with fresh coffee. Avoid going to Starbucks and instead go to one of these unique joints.

Read on for our Guide to Ho Chi Minh City

Day 1

1. Visit the War Remnants Museum

Few things can be more sombering than visiting a museum dedicated to war. The War Remnants Museum in HCM contains exhibits covering the Vietnam War as well as the period preceding it which involved French Colonialists. The pictures in the aftermath of Agent Orange and other chemical attacks are quite disturbing and while room after room is filled with images and records from the war, many people feel that it tells just one side of the story. Regardless of that, this museum should be on your must visit list to get a sense of the history of Vietnam and if nothing, reinforce your faith in the fact that wars are futile.

Glimpse of an exhibit at the museum

Glimpse of an exhibit at the museum

If  you are a machine lover, the display at the entrance to the museum will interest you. We were strolling around the tanks and aircraft when unexpectedly, a local tv crew asked us to join the shoot. We just had to nod a lot and listen intently to the guy giving an explanation of these collections. I thrived in this situation (channelling my nerdy school days persona) but it was hilarious to see Sid trying hard to look serious.

2. Lunch at Hum – vegetarian Vietnamese fine dining at its best

Just a short walk away from the museum is Hum – a beautiful vegetarian restaurant that serves Vietnamese inspired food among other cuisines. The décor is stunning and the service good. We went around noon and had to sit outdoor because the place was booked. So, word of advice – make a reservation in advance just in case. We enjoyed the food thoroughly and had we stayed longer, would have made a few more trips to Hum.

Delicious curry

Delicious curry

 

Vietnamese spring rolls

Vietnamese spring rolls

3. Reunification Palace

After a filling lunch, we set on foot to our next destination – the Reunification palace. What should have been a 15-20 min walk turned out to be longer because we made frequent stops to drink fresh coconut water and make conversation with the coconut vendors who were always ready for a photo op! The palace is right on the road and hard to miss given the huge grounds it is situated on. I didn’t particularly find the palace interesting – there are well preserved meeting rooms and information boards that narrate stories of who met in these rooms and under what circumstances but after a point it got repetitive for me. Worth a visit if you have keen interest in Vietnam’s history.

4. Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office

Just across the road from the palace is the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral. More than a century old but well preserved, the architecture is stunning to look at from the small garden across the church.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

Located just beside the cathedral is the Post Office. At first, we weren’t sure why the place was so crowded but on entering the building we felt like we were transported to some bygone era. A time when people carefully picked up postcards and wrote on them before posting them to loved ones. The building itself is quite pretty from the inside and there are small stalls selling wares but we spent some time just observing the workings of a post office and reminiscing our childhood days.

5. Backpacker’s Street

After a day filled with sightseeing, we decided to head to HCM’s popular Backpacker’s Street. Filled with backpackers obviously, this part of the city is also home to numerous eating joints, and shops selling souvenirs, paintings and other knick-knacks. We spent some time just exploring the place before grabbing some dinner. We called it a night quite early given we had an early start to the day and were tired from all the walking, but if you are in the mood head out for a fancy dinner or enjoy the city’s night life.


Day 2

1. Saigon Square: Located a short walk away from the more famous Ben Thanh market, Saigon Square is an air conditioned street market which sells clothes, shoes, accessories and souvenirs among other things. It is less crowded and touristy compared to Ben Thanh which means you can browse around more comfortably and discover things to buy at your own pace. The clothes here in particular are of higher quality than the other street market stalls we visited. For a better understanding of where to shop in HCM, take a look at the link below

https://xotours.vn/blog/2013/02/22/shopping-in-ho-chi-minh-city-what-to-buy-and-where-to-buy-it/

2. Ben Thanh Market

Chaotic in more ways than one, Ben Thanh Market is the mother of street markets in HCM. Popular among tourists for the wide variety of clothes, accessories, paintings, food etc. available for bargain here, Ben Thanh is not for the faint-hearted or for those who can’t handle crowds. But, if you let go of those inhibitions, it is quite a fun place to explore. The prices are naturally a bit jacked up, so be prepared to bargain hard. If you like something and are unable to close the deal, don’t worry. Most of the stuff sold can be found in other shops in the market, so get a feel for the prices before you decide to make the purchase.

3. Lunch

We are not very spontaneous when it comes to eating during our travels because we are vegetarian. More often than not we leave our hotel room equipped with a map with all veg friendly eateries marked on it. Surprisingly, we decided to wing it on our second day in HCM. Luckily for us we stumbled upon a vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant just next to the Ben Thanh Market. Phuong Mai Vegetarian restaurant is a small establishment on a street across the road from the market. We had amazing veggie pho here and also gulped down some fresh coconut water and fruit juices – all of which were reasonably priced. Highly recommend this place.

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Heavenly pho!

 

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The menu at Phuong Mai – vegetarians’ delight.

4. Dong Khoi

An upmarket shopping street lined with malls and high-end luxury brands, Dong Khoi is every window shopper’s paradise! Jokes aside, do check out some of the malls for cosmetics which I found to be a tad bit cheaper than in Singapore.

5. Saigon Opera House: 

This was a happy discovery for us when walking along Dong Khoi street. A large ornate building that is hard to miss – the Opera House is a beautiful building that regularly hosts theatre performances. We did not get a chance to watch a show but if you have the time, this could make for a perfect evening outing.

Saigon Opera House

Saigon Opera House

6. Indulge in some spa therapy

While not as popular and conveniently found as in other south east Asian tourist hot-spots, spas in HCM are still cheaper when compared to Singapore. Plus, we are always looking for excuses to get our spa on whenever we are on holiday so after a bit of research we decided to go to Indochine Spa which is located a short walk away from Ben Thanh. We were impressed with the service and hospitality of the staff there and the massage was quite good. After all the walking in the hot sun, the spa was the best way to get all the tiredness out of our bones and we were so relaxed that we slept like babies that night.

Our short getaway to Vietnam was more enjoyable than I expected. It was hot and tiring but the friendly people, the lovely vegetarian food, the shopping and more importantly seeing a vibrant young city in its glory more than made up for it. While we just went for a two day holiday, there is so much to see and do in Vietnam beside Ho Chi Minh City that I can’t wait to start planning a second visit to the country. The picturesque Ha Long Bay beckons!

Travel tip: Getting a visa to Vietnam isn’t as straightforward as some other countries in this region. There are lot of third party websites that will help you procure a visa on arrival letter but none of these are officially authorized by the Vietnam embassy. Being the rule following people that we are, we went personally to the Vietnamese embassy in Singapore and dropped off our passports for the visa. Our approach also cost us a bit more but that’s just the way we roll! Do your due diligence or talk to people who might have used some of these online services to make a well informed choice. Happy travelling!

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Top 10 Indian restaurants Singapore

From the delectable aromas of south Indian tiffins to the tantalizing lure of Punjabi dishes, Singapore is a heaven for Indian food lovers. The sizeable diaspora of Indians living in the island nation has resulted in the mushrooming of several restaurants that cater to taste buds of all kinds. While there are pockets such as Farrer Park/Little India where you will be spoilt for options when it comes to Indian food, it can also be a bit overwhelming for someone new to Singapore or Indian food in general to pick out a restaurant. So, like the good Samaritan that I am, I decided to list down my favourite eating joints that serve delicious Indian fare in sunny Singapore. From quick bites to elaborate set courses, I have tried to include choices for all occasions. A disclaimer though, I am a vegetarian and have not tried any meat/seafood dishes but have dined with friends who do, so the list below includes restaurants that serve both veg and non-veg food. Here are our picks for the Top 10 Indian restaurants – Singapore

1. MTR: My favourite place to satisfy cravings for Mum’s dishes – MTR is a pure vegetarian restaurant located a short walk away from Farrer Park MRT. The dosas here are heavenly and if you love coffee then do not miss the filter coffee on the menu. Service is fast and while the ambience might not be much to write home about, the food does all the talking.
Must try dishes: Masala Dosa, Rava Idli, Filter Coffee, Daily specials

2. Kailash Parbat: Whenever my husband, Sid, and I are unable to decide on a restaurant, we end up going to Kailash Parbat. We have eaten almost everything from the menu here and have never been disappointed with any dish. There are two branches and we prefer the one near Little India because it is a bigger space and is less crowded. The menu has a nice balance of Punjabi and Gujrati dishes with some Chinese, Continental fare also available. The food can leave you feeling a bit heavy so we prefer going there for Lunch.
Must try dishes: Chaats, Paneer base curries, Koki, Bread basket

3. Bismillah: Possibly one of the best kept secrets of Singapore’s bustling Indian food scene, Bismillah isn’t really a restaurant unless you consider hoards of people waiting outside a shack in the sweltering sun to grab a parcel of gob-smacking delicious biryanis the definition of what an eating joint should be. We would recommend take-out although people do sometimes eat inside, but these are mostly tourists. Even meat lovers swear by Bismillah’s vegetarian biryani and despite hailing from the land of biryanis – Hyderabad, both Sid and I consider this  one of the best biryanis we have had.
Must try dishes: Veg biryani, Kulfi, Mango Lassi

4. Punjab Grill by Jiggs Kalra: Situated in the swanky Marina Bay Sands, Punjab Grill by noted chef/restaurateur Jiggs Kalra is one of my favourite restaurants in Singapore, period . While there are lots of Indian food serving restaurants here, very few are what I would call ‘date night worthy’ places. The food here is impeccable – we have eaten here on multiple occasions ranging from their amazing value for money lunch buffet, ala carte to the set menus for special days like Valentine’s – and have always come back with happy stomachs. The service is great with the staff in general very courteous, checking in on the diners yet giving enough space for a private meal. I would rate this over some of the similarly priced high end Indian restaurants such as Shahi Maharani and Yantra.
Must try: All items on the menu. Go for the buffest/set course to get a taste of everything.

5. Mustard: I love this place, I do. Except for that one tiny problem – you never get a table. Located along Race Course Road, Mustard is a Punjabi + Bengali cuisine restaurant which scores points just for offering unique items. Say goodbye to just Paneer dishes and greasy parathas (although I love them both) and instead order some authentic dishes. Book in advance to avoid disappointment. This is a budget friendly place to throw a treat or go for a romantic dinner.
Must try: Makki ki roti and Sarson ka saag, authentic Bengali dishes

6. Zaffron Kitchen: Our time spent on the East Coast was made pleasant thanks to this lovely restaurant. Conveniently located opposite I12 Katong Mall amidst a plethora of joints, Zaffron Kitchen offers typical north Indian food with a consistently good taste and service level. My favourite part about the place though is its charming decor. The industrial design, glass panes and yellow lights make the place stand out from the crowd.
Must try: Chef Sampler Chaats, Tandoor dishes, Palak Paneer, Halwas

7. 5th Season: Aah, I could write a love letter to Indian-Chinese food. You know the kind that is served up across street stalls in India. Yum! It is tough to explain what Indianized Chinese food is so we are glad 5th Season solved our dilemma by having a restaurant purely for this cuisine and aptly naming it Tangra Chinese. The food is top notch albeit a bit pricey for the quantity but cravings are never cheap now, are they?
Must try: Veg Manchurian, Hakka Chowmein, Chow Chow Rice, American Chopsuey

8. Nalan: Tucked away in a corner near the busy Bugis area, Nalan is a vegetarian restaurant that offers a perfect blend of north and south India food. It offers the best value for money and the food is consistently good. I have lost count of the number of times we have ended up eating food at Nalan because while the food is tasty, it also feels quite homely i.e. not as rich in oil and spices.
Must try: Samosa Chaat, South Indian dishes and Thaalis

9. Sri Lakshmi Narasimhan: A relatively new favourite of mine which is shocking considering this restaurant is located just next to MTR. Again a pure vegetarian restaurant specializing in South Indian cuisine, the food here reminds me more of Andhra cuisine than any of the other south Indian restaurants like Ananda Bhavan or Komala Vilas. The look and feel of the place is a bit chaotic reminding you of the dhabas in India but the food is top notch.
Must try: Andhra style thali, Masala Dosa, Filter Coffee

10. Khansaama Tandoori Restaurant: A perennial favourite, Khansaama has made a name for itself thanks to the wonderful quality of their paranthas. The curries are of course good too but the wide range of breads is unique. They deliver to home as well and have been our favourite party catering choice for some time.
Must try: Samosas, Paneer Bhurji, Onion/Aloo/Paneer Parantha, Gulab Jamun. Naans

As you can imagine, it has been a challenge for us to keep our weight down thanks to all these wonderful eateries. But, you know what they say – ‘A happy stomach is a happy soul’ (not sure who said it but I live by it)

How many of these places have you tried? Would love to hear what you thought of them. Psst…do leave your suggestions below as we are always open to taking our tummies on adventures.

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Travelling the world as a vegetarian couple

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There are very few places where Sid and I do not stick out like sore thumbs when ordering food. Being from India, we were always aware how blessed we were with the wide variety of options available for vegetarians back home. Yet, it came to us as a shock that in many other parts of the world finding local vegetarian food was like searching for a needle in a haystack. We are now accustomed to being greeted with a sympathetic nod and smile the moment we reveal we are vegetarians. To make things even more exciting, I do not eat mushrooms and Sid will avoid eggs unless we are dying of starvation. So, yeah. There you go. Not a big deal. Did I mention we live in Singapore and travel a lot in SE Asia? I see tons of sympathetic nods coming our way!

Here are some things we have learnt during our travels that might serve you in good stead if you are sailing in similar boats:

1. Just because an item on the menu says ‘vegetarian’, it doesn’t mean it is. Unless there is a symbol beside it that explicitly states it is. Even then, it doesn’t hurt to double check. We have been served fish oil in noodles, shrimp paste in curries many times. Those dishes went back as did we, with less than full stomachs. In many parts of East and SE Asia, seafood and its derivatives are considered vegetarian. So, take your time to understand the menu and trust your gut when something does’t smell right to you.(vegetarians know what I am talking about :P)

2. Picture menus help: A lot of times, the names of certain local dishes might be alien to you. What goes into the dishes, even further so. Lots of restaurants carry picture menus to help you understand what a dish looks like. Ask for one to make a better choice.

3. Compromise a little: When I first started travelling, I wanted to taste local cuisine and eat where locals ate . Unfortunately, my naivety was given a well deserved jolt. While you will find restaurants serving vegetarian food, they will be few and far between and might not always carry local dishes. When you are travelling, you sometimes do not have the luxury of commuting to specific restaurants just to eat local food when there are other things to do. So, learn to make peace with having to fall back on Mexican, Indian, Italian cuisines ever so often. We have learnt to strike a balance. On days when lady luck is smiling on us, we discover two or three good restaurants that serve vegetarian food (none of that mock meat nonsense for us) and stick to them for at least one meal a day. The other meal we go back to our comfort zone. I would take a full stomach over a half happy one any day.

4. Fruits are your best friend, Breakfast is your most important meal: I like a good breakfast but now I have learnt the value of a good breakfast buffet. There have been times when we haven’t found vegetarian food while out and about and relied on our breakfast to get us through till dinner. We also buy and keep fruits, yoghurt, chocolates, snack bars handy in our bag just in case we don’t find food. I know this sounds like we are preparing for some sort of Armageddon but it doesn’t hurt to be well prepared. Plus, I get quite cranky when I am hungry. If you are like me then stuff your bag, just in case.

5. Learn how to say ‘no meat, no fish’ in the local language: Not everyone speaks and understand English. So, communicating your food preferences in the local language is a powerful weapon in any traveller’s arsenal. You can just note down the key words on your phone or a piece of paper and show it to the person taking your order so that there are no gaps in what you are saying and what is being understood at the other end.

6. Research and plan: Now, there are some people who don’t care much about food when travelling. We on the other hand love food, even more so when we are on vacation. Given our restrictive food options, we plan our itinerary for each day in such a way that we are near a specific restaurant that serves vegetarian food around lunch/dinner time. In most places, there are pockets of restaurants around the attractions – so we mark the restaurants on our map before we set off for the day. While this might seem ludicrous to the ‘free-spirited, let us just discover things’ kind of travellers, as vegetarians we sometimes cannot afford to do it – especially if you like  your food as much as we do!

These are by no means out-of-the-planet tips but, we have realized that following them has made our travels more enjoyable, fun and fuss-free. I hope this helps out other vegetarian travellers out there who might occasionally feel short changed when it comes to food. Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of extra planning and effort but the end results more than make up for it. We have tasted some of the best vegetarian food on our travels thanks to reviews, recommendations and some smart thinking ! You will find specific details about where we dined in our individual posts on the blog. All this food talk is making me hungry :), so I will end the post here.

Happy travels!

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Year end festivities in Hong Kong – Four day itinerary

There are some things that just don’t feel right when put together. Christmas and 30 degree weather is one such pairing. This was my first “winter” in Singapore and although I am well aware of the city’s one season policy, my heart yearned for some cold weather. After all, Christmas and New Year feel extra special when you can cuddle in your bed with some hot chocolate and wear warm clothing[The freezing air conditioning in Singapore’s malls does not count as winter although they do give my long forgotten jackets a good outing]. So, with just a week before the holidays, Sid and I decided to go somewhere cold. Hong Kong ticked all our boxes and we were lucky to nab tickets and hotel booking at reasonable rates considering how exorbitantly overpriced travel can be at this time of the year. So, armed with our winter wear, off we went to Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China [Thank you, Wikipedia]

We were greeted by a chill in the air as we made our way to our hotel. The narrow streets through which our cab driver manoeuvred us was the perfect introduction to Hong Kong – busy, bustling, crowded and energetic. On our previous visit to the island, we did not do much so this time around I came equipped with a list of things to see and do. If you are planning a visit to Hong Kong, make sure you set some time away for shopping. Guys, don’t break a sweat. While your mothers, sisters, wives or girlfriends indulge in some retail therapy, you can drown your sorrows in one of the several electronics markets in the city with each shop outdoing the other when it comes to deals.

Tip: Travelling within Hong Kong is very convenient thanks to the extensive metro network called the MTR. Double- Decker buses (a constant reminder of the British legacy) are also a good way to get around if you have more time at your hands and want to take in views of the city. I would highly recommend purchasing an Octopus travel pass which lets you travel in both trains and buses and can be topped up conveniently across stations. While cabs are not that expensive, communicating with the drivers can sometimes be an issue. Make sure you carry your hotel’s address card with you at all times.

Here are some of my top things to see and do when in Hong Kong

1. Ngong Ping 360 and Tian Tan Buddha: Situated on the re-developed Lantau Island, the Ngong Ping 360 is a cable car ride that leads up to the Ngong Ping Village, Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery. The ride offers beautiful views of the South China Sea and the landscape surrounding the area. The sighting of the big Buddha statue signals the end of the breezy ride which in my humble opinion is one of the better cable car rides I have been on.

After getting off, you can walk towards the Buddha statue. Small eateries and shops dot the area and to my heart’s delight, it is one of the few times in Hong Kong when you see vegetarian food on the streets. A beautiful white gate greets you at the entrance to the Tian Tan Buddha and as you walk towards the statue, it appears more majestic. There is a decent walk up to the statue but take your time climbing the stairs. As I tried to catch my breath, the panoramic views from the top took my breath away [see what I did just there!]. One can easily spend hours admiring the views and tranquillity that this place offers. A must visit!

Stunning view of the Buddha at Ngong Ping

Stunning view of the Tian Tan buddha

2. Disneyland: I am in my 20’s but Disneyland brings out the child in me. If I could, I would dress up in Elsa gowns and pester Sid to take me on all the rides. Jokes aside, having been to the Disney resorts in Tokyo, the HK establishment felt much smaller. But, it is hard to not brim with excitement and feel happy when you are in Disneyland. I can imagine that hardcore thrill seekers will be disappointed and might prefer Ocean World to this but if you want less pulse raising rides and want to feel like a child again, do include this in your itinerary. And guess what, I finally managed to get a picture taken with Buzz Lightyear!

Scene from the Disneyland Parade

Scene from the Disneyland Parade

The iconic Mickey greets you at the entrance to Disneyland - HK

The iconic Mickey greets you at the entrance to Disneyland – HK

3. Mong Kok and Causeway Bay: Also known as Shopping Heaven. If you want to skip the fancy malls and big brands then head over to these two places where you will get everything from designer bag knockoffs to phone accesssories that you never thought you needed. You can also find lots of cosmetic stores such as Sasa, Innisfree, Bonjor, Etude House here and I ended up buying tons of stuff – partly due to the price (Singapore is expensive!) and partly due to the amazing packaging. I would recommend checking these places out in the evening because there is a whole new vibe and energy to the street markets once the lights come on.

Shopping madness at Causeway Bay

Shopping madness at Causeway Bay

4. Wan Chai computer city and Sham Shui Po: We had made up our mind to buy quite a few electronic things on our trip. Since Sid had lived in Hong Kong before he knew the places and shops to visit as well as the bargaining tactics to use. The shop salesmen are quite knowledgeable and speak English so do not hesitate to ask questions. While prices are reasonable to begin with you can always ask for additional discount. Do not buy at the first shop you enter , instead explore the floors to get an idea of what the prices and options are before making the final purchase.

6. Nan Lian Gardens: If you want a breather from the urban razzmatazz of HK, head on over to Chi Lin Nunnery that includes the beautiful Nan Lian Gardens. You will be greeted by Chinese style landscaped gardens, lotus ponds, temples of worship and clean fresh air! There is also a wonderful vegetarian eatery on the premises if you want to try out some Buddhist style fare.

7. Hong Kong night skyline and A symphony of lights: Hong Kong’s skyline is legendary. The skyscrapers, billboards, neon lights all come together to form an eclectic sight in the night that has resulted in this becoming an attraction in itself. What makes the viewing that much more special is that it is accompanied by a light and sound show that can be viewed from Victoria Harbour and other parts of the city wherein several iconic buildings of the city get jazzed up. More details here: http://www.discoverhongkong.com/in/see-do/highlight-attractions/harbour-view/a-symphony-of-lights.jsp

Hong Kong Skyline - bloody brilliant!

Hong Kong Skyline – bloody brilliant!

Hong Kong is a true metropolis. Business centres, snazzy malls and an energetic vibe. But, its hidden treasures lie in the narrow lanes where shops hustle and bustle with activity, the eclectic street food, the juxtaposition of the old and new cultures and the beautiful islands away from the city centre.

Joi-Gin Hong Kong. You were a great winter host!

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Getting my ‘fit’ back

As someone who enjoys the idea of exercise and being fit, in principle at least, it shocks me that my absolute lack of motivation when it comes to doing active things has carried on for as long as it has. Let me also state that I am not obese (at-least not now as I type away on my laptop with a packet of Kettle potato chips in one hand) but I am not fit either. To put numbers to this observation, I cannot run for more than 5 mins without gasping for breath and calling out for help for resuscitation – that last part is an exaggeration. I hate the idea of sweating. Why couldn’t us humans be more like elephants – just needing a roll in the mud or a swim in the water to cool off! Plus, I run funny.

I feel you Phoebe!

I feel you Phoebe!

So, when I go on a run with my husband, he does the running for both of us. I try and run whenever I feel like taking a break from slow walking and people gazing. I realized that this was not going to work out for me and decided to try something else. Yoga was the obvious choice. By virtue of being an Indian, I thought I would naturally be good at yoga. No prizes for guessing I sucked at it. My yoga teacher had to contain a smile whenever I tried standing still on one foot. I had to contain my smile whenever those funny breathing exercises came up. But, overall Yoga was good. It is one of those things that will not give you instant results but if you persist with it your overall health can improve. Given my propensity or lack of it for patience, I concluded that while Yoga will always be something I can go back to or do intermittently at home, I needed something more fun. My prayers were answered when I discovered Zumba.

Now, for people who enjoy dancing, Zumba is tons of fun. It gives you an overall workout but you feel like you are in a dance rehearsal learning new steps with cool music in the background. I loved it and even if you cannot find a class you can always search on youtube and dance along in your living room. The only downside – it doesn’t necessarily target any specific body area or problem. I really thought that I had found the solution to my fitness woes with Zumba but I was wrong. Travelling to and from my class (is a bit of a pain in the Singaporean heat) along with scheduling issues resulted in a painful breakup with Zumba. I thought I would heed my own advice and train using online videos but that is yet to translate into meaningful action.

As you can see I make way too many excuses. Unfortunately, none of that has prevented me from hoarding work out clothes in department stores and buying stuff that I probably don’t need to. Every time I make such a purchase I have a rational argument with myself – “You need to look good when you exercise”. But on the upside, I burn some carbs walking in and out of the changing rooms!

All this mockery came to a much needed halt a few weeks back when I visited the doctor for a check-up and came to the realization that I needed to be more healthy. Nothing serious but there are so many factors such as genes, hereditary tendencies and lifestyle choices that can have an adverse affect on your health in the long run. I have started off doing some simple things which I am listing below:

1. Tracking my food habits using MyFitnessPal app. Trust me, once you get used to logging in your daily food intake, it will open up a whole new world of data for you to understand what you are putting into your body. This app is great because it has a huge repository of food which is a massive USP because it is hard to find Indian food in most of the other apps. I already find myself eating healthier food.

2. Taking the stairs whenever I can. Singapore is blessed with escalators and elevators at every nook and corner. So much so that, people do not mind queueing up near escalators for minutes instead of taking a flight of stairs. This activity may not be an exercise in itself but I like doing it because it makes me feel fitter.

3. Cooking at home more often. You do not realize how much better it is to eat at home until you actually stop eating out. It is inevitable to have one meal at work (lunch in most cases) and yes you can eat salads and soups but you will have those one or two off days when the team goes out for something more fancy. Coming back home and cooking dinner is not always possible but I have made a conscious attempt to get up early or prep over the weekend so that we minimize the no. of times we eat out. This has had the biggest impact on my heath in a relatively shorter span of time.

4. Playing badminton. I realized that when I am doing something competitive, I tend to push myself harder. This is exactly what I was not getting with running, zumba and yoga. Thank God for badminton because apart from being a fun sport to play (which sport isn’t? Err, Golf) I do not get bored or feel tired while doing this activity. I play every week with my husband and it is such a great couples activity to do as well.

5. Reconnecting with my old clothes. After I put on a bit of weight I realized there were some clothes that I could not wear. Not until I lost that weight. Slowly those favourite shirts moved to the back of my closet and newer ones replaced them. Every now and then I keep shuttling those clothes to the front to try and see how far I have come along in my quest to lose weight. There is no greater joy than being able to fit into an old pair of jeans. It is also one of the best motivations to keep you on track!

6. Trekking/Hiking: I hate going to the gym. If you are like me and prefer walking out in the nature over that on electronic machine then go on treks and/or hikes on weekends. You can go with your partner or with friends. It s not only a great way to exercise but also allows you to explore new places and newer views. Bonus points if you love photography.

Of course, eating healthy and regular exercise are your two best friends when losing weight but if you are unable to stick to your diet plans or are not feeling motivated to exercise daily, keep doing smaller things on a daily basis to stay on track. All of these are small steps but they are in the right direction and have slowly but surely helped me get back on the track to being fit.

I am in the early stages of my fitness goals but I will report back once I have accomplished something more concrete. After all I love my skinny jeans from 2008 way too much to watch it gather dust sitting at the back of my closet!

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The year end post – 2014

I hear you Michelle :)

I hear you Michelle 🙂

Wait, what? Year end post? Is it just me or did time just fly this year? For all practical purposes 2014 was supposed to be my year, at least in my head. Done with MBA (and studies, I swear), done with long distance, done with uncertainty. But guess what, life never pans out the way you expect it to. Life has a twisted sense of humor about it. So, here I am sitting in my house, typing away on my laptop, not knowing what 2015 has in store but still thankful for all the good things to have happened to me over the past twelve months. One of the biggest lessons I have learnt this year is to learn to be happy in one’s own space. It is easy to compare and contrast your life with someone else’s but Facebook check-ins and LinkedIn job updates do not tell the whole story. So, doing one’s own thing has never been more important than in today’s times. I do have moments of negativity creep in, but I’m only human. (Gosh, I need to get Christina Perri off my track list). But, enough of life lessons. Let’s move on to the more interesting part – my year end lists. If you have read my blog previously you must know how seriously I take these year end posts, I have been writing them for 6 years now which makes it a nice little tradition and I am a sucker for traditions [Find the previous posts here: 20132012 2011 2010 2009]. So without further delay, here it goes

Favorite music

While I love that ballads from John Legend and Sam Smith were lapped up by everyone, the success of songs like Anaconda by Nicki Minaj shakes my faith in the music universe. But, that is what is great about music – there is something for everyone. Here’s a roundup of music I loved this year:

1. All of Me – John Legend

2. Stay With Me and I’m Not The Only One by Sam Smith – Safe to say I am mildly obsessed with his voice. Plus, he sounds even better live. Now, how many current artists can we say that about? Listen to his magical duet with Mary J Blige:

3. Animals and Maps – Maroon 5 (My favorite band right now)

4. Sing, Thinking out Loud and Don’t – Ed Sheeran (His voice is incredible and undeniably unique)

5. Flawless, Partition, Drunk in Love, Pretty Hurts and Blow by Beyonce. I just love Beyonce. Period.

6. Chandelier – Sia

7. Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars (Watch the video and I betcha you will start dancing) Probably my favorite song of the year as well!

8. Guts over Fear – Eminem ft. Sia (Two of my favorite songwriters in the same song! Plus Eminem is the only rap artist whose songs I listen to religiously)

9. Blank Space – Taylor Swift

10. Rude – Magic (Reggae in the house! Sid loves this song too, so it had to feature on my list)

11. Budapest – George Ezra ( In my humble opinion, this guy could be really great in the future)

12. Hideaway – Kiesza

13. Dark Horse – Katy Perry ft. Juicy J

14. Who you love – John Mayer ft. Katy Perry (I am a sucker for a good love song)

15. Black Widow – Iggy Azaela ft. Rita Ora (Not a big fan of either of the singers but the Kill Bill inspired music video and the song itself are pretty catchy)

16. Love Runs Out – One Republic (I love the band and Ryan Tedder in particular)

Top movies of 2014

Gone Girl – I haven’t read the book so my interest around seeing the movie was based solely on the trailer, which I loved. I saw the movie with Sid on the first day and we were both blown away by it. David Fincher is the master of suspense but he captures the psychological complexities of his characters in this movie quite brilliantly as well. If Rosamund Pike does not clinch an Oscar nod for this role I would be very surprised.

Interstellar: I have to admit that I am an unabashed Christopher Nolan fan. He combines mainstream commercial elements with decently intelligent scripts and delivers entertaining movies one after the other. Interstellar was more science documentary than blockbuster viewing and the last act of the movie was all over the place, but I still tip my hat off to the Nolan brothers for bringing worm holes back in vogue! Physics was always my favorite science so I may be biased here but how often do you see a movie that forces you to think, analyze and deliberate.

Edge of Tomorrow: The predictable title and unimaginative promotions did disservice to this very fine movie . My love for Tom Cruise has waned over the years but I adore Emily Blunt so my expectations from this movie were high. I did not expect it to be as good and entertaining as it eventually turned out to be. Tom Cruise in fine form is still one of the most charismatic actors on screen and he proves that with this movie. It may not be as high on adrenalin as the Avengers flicks but it compensates for that with some clever scripting and screenplay.

Nightcrawler: I read rave reviews and oscar buzz for Jake Gyllennhal online for this movie so I dragged Sid to the theater to watch it. If there was one word to describe this movie, it would perhaps be Twisted. I mean, the protagonist in this very dark, sometimes comic but very scarily real movie is like none you have seen in recent times. There were some scenes where the entire audience gasped or let out a loud sigh shocked at the proceedings on screen. This movie might not be for everyone (Sid almost fell asleep somewhere in the middle) but I loved it!

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: I really enjoyed the first movie and thought Andy Serkis was phenomenal as Caesar. The second installment in the series delves more into the man vs animal debate with the entire setting shifting into a more dark, apocalyptic world. The movie is entertaining and keeps you invested thanks to some great visuals. Who else thought Koba was the star of this movie?

I wasn’t as enamored with Captain America: Rise of the Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy as some others. They were good movies just not memorable enough in my opinion. [I am loving the new and improved Chris Pratt though!]
(The Imitation Game, Foxcatcher, American Sniper and Birdman release in January in Singapore so will update the list once I get around to watching them. I am gutted they don’t release before I publish this post but I am 110% confident that these movies will blow me away)

Queen: Seldom does a Hindi movie blow me away the way Queen did this year. The movie was fantastic on so many fronts – great female lead in Kangana Ranaut, lovely music, earthy real dialogues and a warm message to top it all up. I hope more such movies are made where you feel that the makers invested time and brain cells into the process.

Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya: I really like both Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt so it is no surprise that this movie features on the list. The movie is neither path breaking nor cliched in its story or execution and depends solely on its cast to elevate the film. Plus, I am a sucker for DDLJ so this movie felt like a nice, modern day tribute to Raj and Simran.

Hasee Toh Phasee: I also really like Parineeti Chopra and think she is one of the better female actors we have today. This movie won me over partly due to the novel female character and partly for its music. (I think Siddharth Malhotra is super handsome but he has a way to go when it comes to acting). To have a female protagonist who isn’t all perfectly pretty and dolled up in designer wear, is quirky and not dumb was a welcome change.

Mardaani: We all know Rani Mukherji can act but it has been a while since we saw her flex her chops the way she does in this flick. Sid and I saw this movie not knowing what to expect – we had neither seen the trailer nor read any reviews, so boy were we glad that this movie turned out to be so good. Crisp story telling on the back of a great story and fine acting from the entire cast makes Mardani one of the better movies of the last year.

I enjoyed watching 2 States, Happy New Year (I know I shouldn’t be defending my choices but I quite enjoyed this movie. Not all movies need to challenge you intellectually and if paisa vasool entertainment is done convincingly and with a certain amount of skill, it works!), Daawat-e-Ishq as well.

Drushyam: I love Venkatesh as an actor. I grew up watching his movies and think he is one of the finest actors in Telugu cinema. Of late he has had a tough time finding his space in the movies given the influx of young talent in the industry. Drushyam was such a fantastic movie not just for him but even in the larger scheme of things. Granted it is remade from a Malayalam film, but its success bodes well for Telugu cinema where hero idolization, over the top fight sequences and predictable plots have ruled the roost for way too long. My only hope is that movies such as these where characters and not heroes are the center of attention continue being made.

Karthikeya: Honestly, we watched this movie on a whim. It was a weekend, we wanted to see a Telugu movie and everyone was saying how good Karthikeya was. So we went ahead. I loved this movie. I was pleasantly surprised at the great visual quality of the movie despite not being a high budget flick. The story is different and keeps you engrossed while all of the cast, especially the lead Nikhil, perform well. Also, I though the songs and shooting them in South India gave a grounded look to the movie.

Manam: Probably my favorite Telugu movie of the year. When you are assigned the task of bringing together three generations of the Akkineni family for the first time, the expectations are high. So it is to the director Vikram Kumar’s credit that he doesn’t fall into the trap of conventions and instead tells a story that seamlessly navigates between the leads – Nagarjuna, Chaitanya and the legendary thespian Late Mr. ANR. I also liked that the focus was not just on the male leads and even the female actors were given author backed roles. The music, cinematography (especially in some of the flashback scenes) and crisp editing made this movie a fantastic experience. One of the rare times when I felt like watching a Telugu movie in the cinemas for a second time.

Oohalu Gusagusalade: I think the best work in Telugu cinema is being done by small, independent film makers. The focus is more on the content and delivery which is great because I have had it with all the regressive, repetitive crap. This movie is one such small budget movie that has a very refreshing take on a love triangle. The performances, especially from the female lead, are very good as is the cinematography. The comedy is clean and some parts of the movie reminded me of a Sekhar Kammula movie.

Movies I didn’t like in 2014

Entertainment and Humshakals: Every year I feature a movie on this list that I haven’t really seen. This year that coveted spot goes to to two movies. I had the bad luck of seeing the trailers for both these movies and that was all that I needed. I genuinely think Sajid Khan has learnt his lesson after receiving the kind of flak he has for Humshakals but I read somewhere that Entertainment actually made money. What? Excuse me while I go and puke at the sorry state of affairs in Bollywood.

Haider: I know I might be in the minority here but I did not enjoy watching Haider. I really liked the performances from the cast members – barring Shahid Kapoor, but the movie was all over the place. It had the potential to be great but faltered. Plus, I hate pretentious pseudo intellectuals praising a movie merely because it handles a different subject. Making a movie is not just about picking a tricky theme, it needs to be executed well too. On a side note, can Tabu please act more. She is such a fine actress and deserves to be seen more on the screen.

Yay! moments

1. The Mangalyaan Mission – Probably the proudest moment for India this year.

2. Getting to watch Serena Williams play live ( I will also get to you Roger, one day)

3. Deepika Padukone teaching TOI a good lesson in journalistic ethics.

4. Travelling with Sid – There is nothing better than seeing different places and exploring different cultures. Wait, let me rephrase. There is nothing better than seeing different places and exploring different cultures with your partner. As a direct result of that, I started a new travel blog : The Round Trip Ticket!

5. Watching Bruno Mars perform live at his Moonshine Jungle Tour, Singapore. I mean, this guy is beyond talented. If you get a chance to see his concert, do not think twice. You will dance, lose your voice singing out loud and appreciate Bruno and his band – The Hooligans for being true artists. Plus, there is no twerking, auto-tuning and all that nonsense.

6. The Clean India campaign: Although the idea is not novel, the approach is. Kudos to PM Modi for bringing cleanliness and sanitation back into public discussion. India needs a mass scale, ground roots campaign like this.

WTH moments

1. The chief minister of Telangana – KCR and his countless gaffes. I wish we could recycle all the crap that comes out of his mouth and put it to some good use.

2. The sorry state of law in India. Every time you think maybe things are getting better, a news story hits you and makes you sick to your stomach. Women are of course suffering the most but like the Haryana case proved, so are men. As are the poor and underprivileged. And the middle class. Everyone. We need better functioning of law and order.

3. This video of Arnab Goswami and Subramaniam Swamy. Absolute facepalm! News channels in India are going to the dogs.

So, you read what I thought of this year. Did I miss out on any awesomeness? (Apart from the TVF’s Permanent Roommates which I will see shortly). Before I digress, here’s wishing all of you a very happy New Year. May 2015 be filled with adventure, love and laughter for all of you. And here’s hoping we all become better people too. Cheers!

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