March 27, 2008

New Zealand beckons

Yup, I'm travelling again, less than 72 hours after returning home yesterday after my multi-city roadshows. I'm attending a conference on diabetes in Wellington, following which hubby and mum will join me in Christchurch, after weeks of research, planning, change of plans, re-planning, yet another round of change and finally, confirmation. New Zealand has been a dream destination ever since I was a swinging single girl, long before New Zealand was immortalised as the essential tourist destination by Peter Jackson's LOTR series. But for one reason or another, I've never fulfilled this dream, until now that is.

Even then, we only have enough time to tour the South Island, as hubby could not take so many days off. We decided not to bring Yiu Yiu this time, as the trip will be rather demanding on a young toddler, with long distance driving being the order of the day. Furthermore, with her along, we won’t be able to partake in popular activities such as glacier walk in Franz Joseph or Fox, and some extreme activities in Queenstown. Most importantly, she's too young to remember anything, which will be such a waste given that her airfare isn't cheap. So she'll be staying with the babysitter for 11 days when hubby flies over.

As I'm typing this, Yiu Yiu is already fast asleep and I'm feeling very heavy hearted as I'll not be seeing her for more than 15 days. It's really a bitter sweet situation for me now.

March 25, 2008

The 50 questions tag

I got this tag from Kittycat so I figured I better quickly complete it before I forget about it. Here goes…

1. Last person you had a deep and meaningful conversation with?
I am currently travelling with a renowned endocrinologist from New York who's a speaker for my medical education roadshows. As we have been spending a lot of time shuttling between flights and airports, we had been talking about everything under the sun – politics, medicine, etc.

2. Where was the last place you went?
Shangri-La Tanjung Aru Resort, Kota Kinabalu. Before that was E&O Penang. Currently I'm at Hilton Kuching.

3. If you could be with your first love, would you?
We separated amicably due to circumstances back then. If we had pulled it through, I think things could work out pretty well between us. But then again, I had not kept in touch with him so not quite sure if he had changed from back then.

5. Who was your first crush????
I think it was a primary school classmate, who went on to become my classmate in secondary school and housemate while in university. But the crush didn't last THAT long! Anyway, I'm glad it was just a simple crush coz as we grew up, he has this attitude which I don’t quite fancy.

6. What was the last thing you highlighted?
Err…not sure what this means but I used the highlighter tool on a pdf file for work purpose recently.

7. Who is the last baby that you held?
Baby means less than one year old? So Yiu Yiu doesn't count? Then it's my 3-month old niece, Xiaoyu.

8. Do you know of any twins with rhyming names?
Nope, never had the good fortune of knowing any twins, and I'd hoped and still hoping that I could conceive twins (see question 42).

9. Are you ticklish?
Not really.

10. Have you ever worn a crown?
Like Kittycat, I wore a tiara during the studio wedding photo shoot few years back.

11. Last time you saw fireworks?
Chinese New Year, but those are mini versions which went "Boom! Boom! Boom!" for a little while and then the air became quiet again. Not shiok one!

12. Who is the last person you hugged?
Yiu Yiu. Hugged her to sleep the night before I travelled.

13. Do you have a black dog?
No…I didn’t grow up with animals and hence, don't really have any particular fondness for animals.

14. Do you have a little black dress?
Yes, but not quite little. It's a bare back calf length dress trimmed with chiffon, and decorated with neat needlework of shiny labuci (is that what they are called?) and other stuff (I'm hopeless in fashion so I can't really describe what's on the dress).

15. What are you wearing right now?
T-shirt and shorts.

16. Who was the last person you talked to on the phone?
Hubby! I call home every night the last few days to chat with him and Yiu Yiu. Unfortunately, Yiu Yiu went to sleep just 5 – 10 minutes before I called.

17. Do you like coffee?
Yes, one mug of Nescafe without fail in the mornings when I'm in office, and mostly iced coffee and iced "cham" when eating out at coffee shops. It's bad because Yiu Yiu always want to share my iced coffee and iced "cham" but this bad mummy just cannot resist ordering them even though she knows it's bad for her precious daughter.

18. Are you missing someone?
Yes, I'm definitely missing Yiu Yiu. But it's strange that when I'm home, sometimes I wished she'd leave me alone to do my things.

19. Reason behind why you last cried?
It wasn't a real cry but more like shedding some silent tears. I was chatting with an elderly friend who's a doctor, on the election results and he asked if anyone in my family is as interested in politics as I am. I thought of my dear old dad who would stay up late glued to the TV just waiting for the results to stream in. And the conversation then veered onto how I thought I should have known better to identify the early symptoms of his GI bleeding, which might have saved his life. And I still blame myself for it.

20. How much cash do you have on you?
Slightly more than RM400. I normally withdraw $$$ once a month and the amount withdrawn would tide me over for a month so sometimes, I have quite a lot of cash in my wallet, which is definitely not be a good thing.

25. How many rolls of film do you need to get developed?
I've quit using film camera ages ago, but I've got tonnes, and I really mean tonnes of photos that I need to develop or make into photobook. You won't believe if I tell you that I've not even developed the photos taken on the actual day of my wedding, plus those artsy fartsy shots I took during my pregnancy. Plus none of Yiu Yiu photos have been developed and all those photos of my recent trips. Gosh! I really need a looooonnnnggg holiday to sort out these photos and get them printed once and for all.

26. If you had to choose between a million bucks or to be able to change a regret?
Can I have both?

27. What’s on your mind right now?
That I'm only at question #27, and I've got 23 more questions to answer. Sigh!

28. Do you have a deep dark secret?
Don't think so.

29. Do you wish you were with someone right now?
Yes, with Yiu Yiu and hubby at home.

30. Who was the hottest teacher you ever had?
It doesn't have to be a male teacher, right? It has to be Mrs. Yeoh, my Form 6 Maths teacher. She was the gentlest teacher ever, ever patient with her students, and good at what she taught. She took a keen interest in her students and when I got involved with my first love (see question 3), she took time to talk to me and advised me on the pros and cons of getting into a relationship at such a crucial time (we were months away from STPM). I took part in a Teacher's Day contest by The Star newspapers and dedicated a poem to her, and I was among the top winners. That earned us (my classmates and Mrs. Yeoh) a huge feast of KFC, the sponsor of the competition. I can't remember if there's any other prizes but I distinctly remembered the KFC feast as it was held in the school hall.

31. What was the last thing you ever got grounded for?
Don't think I ever got grounded from anything. Mum and dad never had this practice when we were growing up.

32. What was your childhood nickname?
Fatty "my name". I was pretty round back then and my relatives called me that. My friends didn't though.

33. Do you have any strange phobias?
I fear death. I just cannot imagine myself being taken away from all my loved ones, and the thought of never seeing them again never fails to create this churning sensation in the pit of my stomach.

34. Have you ever played naked twister?
What's that? Obviously if I've never even had of it, I wouldn't have played it right?

36. What did you fear was going to get you at night as a child?

38. Is there anybody you just wish would fall off the planet?
Yes, there are several people whom I wished would disappear from my life, but I guess I don't feel strongly against them enough to wish they'd fall off the planet.

39. Do you crack your knuckles?
No, never had this habit.

40. What’s one thing that can always be found in your refrigerator?
Ice and cold water. I'm a sucker for cold drinks.

41. What color are your bed sheets?
Currently it's grey, though we also have beige and light brown. Only these colours match the colour of the cushion we put on the wall as the backing for the bed.

42. How many kids do you plan on having?
When we first got married, I wanted three. Now, I'm hesitating even to have another one since Yiu Yiu is reasonably independent and having to start all over again, especially without domestic help, is pretty tough. But then, she'd be so lonely growing up alone. So I guess I'll definitely go for #2. Will cross the bridge to #3 when we get there. But if I could conceive twins (see question 8), that would be so neat!

43. What did you do today?
Flew from Kota Kinabalu to Kuching, took my speaker around Kuching where he bought a wood carving from one of the shops at the river front, had our evening symposium with a good turnout, called home, and of course, completing this assignment. Yay, only seven more questions to go.

44. How would you like to die?
See answer to question 33. Because of that, I don't like to think about my own death. But I guess everyone would wish to die peacefully in his/her sleep after fulfilling all their worldly "duties". No one in their right mind would wish for a violent death, right?

45. Have you ever been in love?

46. When is the last time you went out of the state (province)?
I'm currently out of state, see question 2. Will be heading to Johor Bahru tomorrow, our last stop before heading home on Wednesday, yay yay.

49. Do you judge people?
I must admit I do, though I try not to.

50. Generally, in life, what makes you happy?
Spending time with family and as with Kittycat, having enough money for basic needs plus plenty to spare for travelling, which I absolutely love. How I wished I can go on holidays with hubby and Yiu Yiu without having to think about the finances.

Not tagging anyone, since I only know very limited people on blogosphere. Wished I have more time to blog hop and make more friends. Sigh!

March 21, 2008

My Paris getaway – Part 3

September 25, Tuesday

Today is the day to visit one of the most recognizable structures in the world, the Tour Eiffel. Weighing 7,000 tons but exerting about the same pressure on the ground as an average-size person sitting in a chair, the wrought-iron tower wasn't meant to be permanent. The French engineer Gustave-Alexandre Eiffel, who designed the framework for the Statue of Liberty, built it for the 1889 Universal Exhibition. The tower created as much controversy in the 1880s as the glass pyramid at the Louvre did in the 1980s. The tower, including its TV antenna, is 317m and was the world's tallest building until the Chrysler Building went up in New York in 1930. Standing beneath the tower and looking straight up, the tower looks like a rocket of steel lacework shooting into the sky – really awe inspiring.

I decided to join the long line to ascend the tower. There are elevators in two of the pillars to take visitors up, 1889 lift machinery in the eastern and western pillars. I ended up queuing for 75 minutes before finally boarding the elevator to the second landing platform which offers a panoramic look at the city. Here, there's another lift to ascend to the third landing platform, which gives the most spectacular view. It took me another 45 minutes waiting in line before I got onto the lift. But I must say the 2-hour waiting time was well worth it. The view from the highest vantage point was indeed spectacular, with all the major sights of Paris visible in the clear day.
The view from below the tower. Note the yellow cable car ascending the tower.

Paris, as seen from the top of Eiffel Tower. Bottom left is the Arc de Triomphe

By the time I came back down to earth, it was already 2pm so I had to scrap my plan of taking a cruise of the Seine on Bateaux-Mouche. I had really wanted to enjoy Paris from the deck of one of these scenic boat tours that take in Paris from the riverbank point of view, including the legendary dramatic vistas of Notre-Dame. But alas, the time wasted in line at Tour Eiffel put a damper on this. Instead, I walked along Champ de Mars, the vast green park beneath the tower which extends all the way to the 18th-century Ecole Militaire (Military Academy). The formal lawn of Champ de Mars was once a parade ground for French troops and is now a perfect place to soak up the sun while taking in the view of Tour Eiffel.

My next destination was Hôtel des Invalides. In 1670, King Louis XIV decided to build this "hotel" to house soldiers who had been injured, crippled, or blinded while fighting his battles. Napoleon's Tomb lies beneath the golden dome of the Invalides. First buried on the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena where he was in exile, Napoleon's remains were exhumed and brought to Paris in 1840 on the orders of Louis-Philippe, who demanded that the English return the emperor to French soil, almost two decades after his death. The remains were locked inside six coffins in this tomb made of red Finnish porphyry, with a green granite base. Surrounding it are a dozen Amazon-like figures representing Napoleon's victories. Surrounding Napoleon's Tomb are those of his brother, Joseph Bonaparte; the great Vauban, who built many of France's fortifications; World War I Allied commander Foch; and the vicomte de Turenne, the republic's first grenadier.

Napoleon's tomb, and those of his allies

The world's greatest military museum, the Musée de l'Armée is also located here. In 1794, a French inspector started collecting weapons, uniforms, and equipment, and with the accumulation of war material over time, the museum has become a documentary of man's self-destruction. Viking swords, battle axes, machine guns, war pitchforks, salamander-engraved Renaissance serpentines, musketoons, grenadiers – all manners of weaponry are enshrined here.

By the time I left the Hotel des Invalides, it was already dusk. I quickly took a metro to Montmartre. Striding a hill atop Paris, Montmartre used to be a village of artists, including Renoir and Van Gogh. Though it's overrun by tourists and nightclub entrepreneurs now, much of the village-like charm of this place still lingers. I didn't have much time to wander around the cobbled and crooked little streets of Montmartre, as I had to make my way to the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur (The Church of the Sacred Heart), with its multiple gleaming white domes and campanile (bell tower) looming over Paris. After France's 1870 defeat by the Prussians, the basilica was planned as a votive offering to cure France's misfortunes. Rich and poor alike contributed money to build it. Construction began in 1876, and though the church wasn't consecrated until 1919, perpetual prayers of adoration have been made here day and night since 1885. The interior is brilliantly decorated with mosaics, with a striking Christ on the ceiling and the mural of his Passion at the back of the altar. Unfortunately, unlike most other churches and museums in Paris, no photography is allowed inside this church. The crypt contains what some of the devout believe is Christ's sacred heart - hence, the name of the church.

The next morning, I left Paris with nothing but fond memories, wishing I had a little more time to fully explore this beautiful city.

March 20, 2008

My Paris getaway – Part 2b

September 24, Monday

Over the Seine on the Left Bank is the precinct of the Université de Paris (known for its most famous branch, the Sorbonne), where students meet and fall in love over café crème and croissants. It was named the Quartier Latin after the students and the professors who spoke Latin in the classroom and on the streets. The impressive fountain at Place St-Michel marks the beginning of the Quartier Latin. Sorbonne, along Boulevard St-Michel is one of the most famous academic institutions in the world. It was founded in the 13th century for poor students who wished to pursue theological studies. By the next century it had become the most prestigious university in the West. To the left at the end of Boulevard St-Michel is the Pantheon. The neoclassical building with a huge dome was originally a church. It was ordered by Louis XV in thanksgiving for his having recovered from a serious illness. After the Revolution, the church was converted to a "Temple of Fame" and became a pantheon for the great men of France. Some of the most famous men in French history are buried here. Only one woman has so far been deemed worthy of placement here: Marie Curie, who joined her husband, Pierre.

On the opposite side of Boulevard St-Michel is Jardin du Luxembourg, one of Paris's best-loved parks. It has always been associated with artists, though children, students, and tourists predominate nowadays. The gardens are in classic French tradition: well groomed and formally laid out, the trees planted in patterns.

Top left: Sorbonne, top right: Pantheon, bottom: Jardin du Luxembourg

Leaving the Quartier Latin, I made my way back to Notre-Dame and cross the footbridge behind Notre-Dame to another island in the Seine River, Ile St-Louis. Here, it's a world of tree-shaded quays, town houses with courtyards, restaurants, and antiques shops. Ile St-Louis is primarily residential; nearly all the houses were built from 1618 to 1660, and have remained much as it was back then.

When Paris began to overflow the confines of Ile de la Cité in the 13th century, the citizenry began to settle in Le Marais, a marsh that used to be flooded by the Seine. By the 17th century, the Marais had become the center of aristocratic Paris. Today, it has become Paris's center of gay/lesbian life and the latest refuge for the Paris artisan. It is a great place for window-shopping at trendy boutiques, up-and-coming galleries and more. One of the focal point of Marais is Place de la Bastille. This used to be the site of the Bastille prison which loomed over Paris with eight huge towers. On July 14, 1789, a mob attacked the prison, igniting the French Revolution. Now, nothing of this symbol of despotism remains. Cologne de Juillet stands in the middle of Place de la Bastille. It doesn't commemorate the French Revolution but honors the victims of the July Revolution of 1830, which put Louis-Philippe on the throne after the heady but wrenching victories and defeats of Napoleon Bonaparte. The winged God of Liberty, whose forehead bears an emerging star, crowns the tower.

About a block away from Place de la Bastille is Place des Vosges, the oldest square in Paris and once its most fashionable. Laid out in 1605 by order of Henry IV, it was the scene of innumerable cavaliers' duels. A tiny park in the middle is flanked by 36 matching brick-and-stone pavilions with red and gold brick and stone facades. The pavilions rise from covered arcades which are now occupied by antique dealers, booksellers, and cafes. The buildings were constructed according to a strict plan: The height of the facades is equal to their width, and the height of the triangular roofs is half the height of the facades. Over the years, many famous Parisian took up residence here, the best known of whom was Victor Hugo, the writer of Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

Left: Place de la Bastille, right: Place des Vosges

March 19, 2008

My Paris getaway – Part 2a

September 24, Monday

My first stop for the day was Eglise St Eustache, a Gothic and Renaissance church completed in 1637, rivaled only by Notre-Dame. The church has been known for organ recitals, and its most famous painting is Rembrandt's The Pilgrimage to Emmaus. A short walk away is Center Pompidou, the center for 20th- and 21st-century. Opened in 1977, it quickly became the focus of controversy due to its bold exoskeletal architecture and the brightly painted pipes and ducts crisscrossing its transparent facade (green for water, red for heat, blue for air and yellow for electricity). Center Pompidou now encompasses the Musée National d'Art Moderne (National Museum of Modern Art), Bibliothèque Information Publique (Public Information Library), Centre de Création Industriel (Center for Industrial Design), Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique-Musique (Institute for Research and Coordination of Acoustics/Music) and Atelier Brancusi, a re-creation of the Jazz Age studio of Romanian sculptor Brancusi. Amazingly, more art lovers visit Center Pompidou per day than they do the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower.

I then made my way to Hotel de Ville. On a large square with fountains and early-1900s lampposts, the 19th-century building isn't a hotel as the name suggests, but Paris's grandiose City Hall. The medieval structure it replaced had witnessed countless municipally ordered executions. Across the river from Hotel de Ville is Ile de la Cité, dubbed "The cradle of Paris," where the city was born. It is actually an island shaped like a great ship in the middle of River Seine. Home to French kings until the 14th century, Cité still has a curiously medieval air, with massive gray walls rising up all around, relieved by tiny patches of parkland. The island is home to France's greatest cathedral, Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie.

Top: Eglise St Eustache, bottom left: Center Pompidou, bottom right: Hotel de Ville

Notre-Dame is the heart of Paris and even of the country itself. Distances from the city to all parts of France are calculated from a spot in front of the cathedral, where a circular bronze plaque marks Kilomètre Zéro. Founded in the 12th century, the main body of the church is typically Gothic, with slender, graceful columns. In the choir, a stone-carved screen from the early 14th century depicts such biblical scenes as the Last Supper. Near the altar stands the 14th-century Virgin and Child, highly venerated among Paris's faithful. In the treasury are displayed vestments and gold objects, including crowns. And while trying to take photos of the interior, I briefly put my guidebook down trying to get a better shot while stabilizing my camera with both hands. When I turned back just seconds later, my book was gone! Someone had stolen my guidebook, of all places, inside the most famous Parisian church! That was a real spoiler but I counted my blessings that it was only a guidebook, not something more important like my passport, air ticket or wallet. Luckily I still had the map of Paris in my backpack, and another copy of my planned itinerary so I could carry on with my plan.

Behind Notre-Dame is the Mémorial des Martyrs Français de la Déportation de 1945 (Deportation Memorial). Here, birds chirp and the Seine flows gently by, but the memories are far from pleasant. The memorial commemorates the French citizens who were deported to concentration camps during World War II. Carved into stone are blood-red words "Forgive, but don't forget" in French.

I then made my way to the Palais de Justice which houses the present Paris law courts. In the courtyard of Palais de Justice is Sainte Chapelle, one of the oldest and most beautiful churches in the world. It was built in 1246 to house the relics of the Crucifixion. Many call this tiny chapel a jewel box, as its upper chapel is surrounded by fifteen brilliantly coloured stained glass windows whereby scenes from the Old and New Testaments are emblazoned, depicting everybody from Adam and Eve to St. John the Baptist and the life of the Virgin. Unfortunately, it wasn't a sunny day and I couldn't view the supposedly spectacular effects of natural light against the vivid and brilliant colours of the windows.

Next to Sainte Chapelle is the Conciergerie. Much of the Conciergerie was built in the 14th century as an extension of the royal Palais de la Cité, where the warden of the kings used to live. It was later used as a prison and during the French Revolution, the Conciergerie became a symbol of terror to the nobility and enemies of the State. Those destined for the guillotine were first impronised here, including Marie Antoinette, the Austrian queen to King Louis XVI, and other members of the royal family.

Top: Sainte Chapelle, bottom: Conciergerie

March 17, 2008

My Paris getaway – Part 1

September 23, Sunday

I woke up slightly late and so, by the time I got to the Lourve Museum, it was almost noon. Formerly a royal palace, the Lourve is one of the world's largest museums and has one of the greatest art collections ever. To enter, one has to pass through the controversial 21m glass pyramid - a startling contrast of the ultramodern against the palace's classical lines. Commissioned by the late president François Mitterrand and completed in 1989, it allows sunlight to shine on an underground reception area. The photogenic pyramid has become one of Paris's landmarks.

The most famous exhibit at the Lourve has to be Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Acquired by François I to hang above his bathtub, Mona Lisa has been the source of legend for centuries. She commands a new gallery of her own and the painting is guarded and protected by bulletproof glass. The world's most famous painting was stolen in 1911 and found in Florence in 1913. Other less well known paintings by da Vince are Virgin and Child with St. Anne and the Virgin of the Rocks. The other highlights of the museum are the armless statue of Venus de Milo and Winged Victory, the headless statue discovered at Samothrace and dating from about 200 B.C.

Top: Mona Lisa, its small size relative to its fame, and the security around the painting. Bottom: Other paintings by da Vinci

Venus de Milo and Winged Victory

Leaving the Lourve, I took a walk through the spectacular statue-studded Jardin des Tuileries, bordering Place de la Concorde. This exquisitely formal garden was laid out as a royal pleasure ground in 1564 but was thrown open to the public by the French Revolution. Trees are arranged according to designs with arrow-straight walking paths. Breaking the sense of order and formality are bubbling fountains and a series of round ponds on which kids sail model boats.

Place de la Concorde is an octagonal traffic hub, built in 1757. It is dominated by an Egyptian obelisk from Luxor, the oldest object made by humans in Paris, circa 1200 B.C. In the Reign of Terror at the time of the French Revolution, the dreaded guillotine was erected on this spot to claim thousands of heads.

Heading north to Place Vendome, an octagon-shaped square lined by 17th century buildings, is home to some of the city's most exclusive stores, specializing in perfume, fashion and jewellery. In its centre towers a 44m column with bas reliefs made from the bronze of 1200 cannons captured in 1805 from the Austrians.

A short walk away is La Madeleine, one of Paris's minor landmarks. Though construction began in 1806, it wasn't consecrated until 1842. Resembling a Roman temple, the building was intended as a monument to the glory of the Grande Armée. Later, several alternative uses were considered: the National Assembly, the Bourse, and the National Library.

Clockwise from top left: Jardin des Tuileries, Place Vendome, La Madeleine, Place de la Concorde

Making my way back to Place de la Concorde, I embarked on the most popular walk in Paris, leading all the way to the Arc de Triomphe. The 3.2km walk would take me through Champ Elysee, Musee de Petit Palais and Grand Palais. Pointing from Place de la Concorde like a broad, straight arrow to the Arc de Triomphe at the far end, the Champs-Elysées (the main street of Paris) is touted as the world's most famous promenade. For the first third of the stroll from Place de la Concorde, the avenue is hedged by chestnut trees. Then it changes into a double row of palatial hotels and shops, movie houses, office buildings, and block after block of sidewalk cafes. I took a brief detour from the boulevard for the Musee de Petit Palais and Grand Palais. Built for the 1900 World's Fair, the Petit Palais and Grand Palais are covered by domes of iron and glass. With its 240 metre-long façade, the Grand Palais is used for various exhibitions. The Petit Palais, located across the street from the Grand Palais houses the Musee des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris.

Top: Musee de Petit Palais and Grand Palais. Bottom: The famed Champ-Elysees

At the end of the broad boulevard is the Arc de Triomphe. It's the biggest triumphal arch in the world, about 49m high and 44m wide, and located in the middle of Paris's busiest traffic hub. Commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate the victories of his Grand Armée, it wasn't completed until 1836. Four years later, Napoleon's remains, brought from St. Helena, passed under the arch on their journey to his tomb at the Hôtel des Invalides. Since that time it has become the focal point for state funerals. It's also the site of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in whose honor an eternal flame burns.

March 16, 2008

Heading to my Paris getaway

The following few posts are all backdated posts of my trip to Europe in last September. Apologies if I bore you with stale posts but I just want to capture these for posterity so please indulge me.

I've written about my trips to Amsterdam and Brussels and you can read about them here:
Places of Interests in Amsterdam – Part 1
Places of Interests in Amsterdam – Part 2
Places of Interests in Amsterdam – Part 3
Amsterdam Side Trips (Part 1a) - Zaanse Schans
Amsterdam Side Trips (Part 1b) - Zaanse Schans
Amsterdam Side Trips (Part 2) – Marken and Volendam
Amsterdam Side Trips (Part 3a) - Rotterdam
Amsterdam Side Trips (Part 3b) - Rotterdam,

Onwards to Brussels
Places of interests in Brussels – Part 1
Places of interests in Brussels – Part 2
Places of interests in Brussels – Part 3

I left Brussels on Saturday, September 22 for Paris. I boarded the 4.45pm Thalgo high speed train and arrived in Paris Gare du Nord train station about 1.5 hours later. I booked my hotel through the Net and purposely chose one near Gare du Nord, the main transportation hub in the northern part of the city. I didn’t have any trouble finding the hotel and after checking in, I just wandered around the area before grabbing a quick dinner and calling it a night. The early night would replenish my energy for the next few grueling days of sight seeing.

The imposing and impressive Gare du Nord

March 14, 2008

Ain't they cute

I was greeted with this sight when I stepped into the bedroom...
And at the corner, grinning from ear to ear was this...

"Mummy, see my bear bear. So cute!"

March 12, 2008

Bangkok – Lavana Spa

A trip to Bangkok would not be complete without a good massage. The elegant Lavana Spa, with 48 spacious rooms and individual shower rooms, is about 10 – 15 minutes walk from our hotel.

We went there one night at about 11pm. All of us chose to have a two hour Thai massage with herbal ball. The herbal ball is one of the traditional tools used since ancient times whereby steaming Thai herbs are tightly wrapped in cloth and gently applied along the energy lines of the body. It is supposed to help relieve muscular aches and strains and promotes healthy blood circulation. I think the massage lasted for about an hour, followed by an hour of herbal ball treatment. My verdict? I would have preferred to have two solid hours of massage. I'm not sure if it's the skills of my masseur but I just didn't feel the ummpphh after the two hour treatment, unlike previous massages.
My colleagues browsing through the menu

Picture in the centre is the herbal ball

The massage room

My colleagues went there again on the last night but this time, they chose the aroma oil massage. Their verdict? It was the best aroma massage they've ever had.

March 09, 2008

Malaysians have spoken

The votes had been cast and the results are out! The coalition party was denied their coveted two-thirds majority in Parliament and they lost Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor and Kelantan. And Samy Vellu was shown the exit.

My blog has been kept strictly private for my mundane updates on Yiu Yiu and personal stories but the fact that I'm penning this down now speaks volume about how I feel about the results. Over the last several months, I can't help but bit by bit, lose confidence in this country. I have doubts about what this country holds for Yiu Yiu and her future siblings. Today's results somewhat gives me some reassurance that all is not lost, that I'm not alone in feeling this way.

As I write, I'm still tuned in to the live broadcast on TV1 (after NTV7 and TV3 ended their transmission). And I'm really troubled by the comments made by the guests on TV1 and TV3. Comments about why Chinese voters swing to the Opposition this time, about why we should be thankful for the opportunities given to us, about how we should realise that Malays are still economically backwards, that kind of crap! This particular so-called political analyst on TV3 even derided how he doesn't think DAP can govern Penang well as they will have to work with PKR, a predominatly Malay party. I wonder who's practising racial politics here!

I'm happy the coalition was denied their two-thirds majority. And the fact that their parliamentary seats were contributed mainly by Sabah and Sarawak means they did extremely poorly in the Peninsula.

This is a wish list shared by a close friend, and I can't agree more:
1. An end to corruption.
2. Aid to the poor and disadvantaged irrespective of race.
3. Merit-based system in promotion for civil servants and education opportunities.

I really hope the Opposition will put their money where their mouths are – things cannot change overnight, that much i know, but at least we should move in the right direction slowly and surely.

Bangkok - Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew

The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, located within the same grounds, is the number one destination in Bangkok but despite having been to Bangkok few times, this was my first visit.

Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is an architectural wonder of gleaming glided chedi (stupas or mounds) seemingly levitating above the ground. Central to the wat is the Emerald Buddha itself, a rather small, dark statue, a little more than 60cm tall, made of green jasper or perhaps jadeite that sits atop a huge gold altar. The Buddha, like many others in Thailand, is covered in a seasonal cloak, changed three times a year to correspond to the summer, winter, and rainy months. The changing of the robes is an important ritual, performed by the king, who also sprinkles water over the monks and well-wishers to bring good fortune during the upcoming season.

Legend says it came from Sri Lanka, but most art historians believe that it was sculpted in the 14th century in northern Thailand, as it is in the Chiang Saen (Lanna Thai) style. This much-venerated image is said to have once been covered with plaster and gold leaf and kept inside a chedi in Chiang Rai. It endured an epic journey from northern Thailand, where it was hidden inside a layer of stucco, to its present home. In between it was seized by Laotian forces and carried off to Luang Prabang and Vientiane, where it was recaptured by General Chakri.

At the side, the Upper Terrace consists of three main monuments - Phra Sri Rattana Chedi, a 19th-century Sri Lankan-style stupa housing ashes of the Buddha; Phra Mondop, a library built in Thai style by Rama I with its mother-of-pearl cabinet that displays the palm leaf scriptures; and the Royal Pantheon where statues of past sovereigns of the ruling dynasty are enshrined, built in Khmer style during the 19th century. There is also a model of Angkor Wat, the most sacred of all Cambodian shrines. The model was constructed by King Mongkut as a reminder that the neighboring state was under the dominion of Thailand. Scattered around the complex are statues of elephants, thought to represent independence and power. Thai kings went to battle atop elephants, and it is customary for parents to walk their children around an elephant three times to bring them strength.

From left: Phra Sri Rattana Chedi, Phra Mondop, Royal Pantheon

The Grand Palace is the former royal residence and consists of four main complexes. Today it is used by the king only for certain ceremonial occasions such as Coronation Day. The king's current residence is Chitralada Palace in the northern part of the city. The palace was greatly influenced by Western architecture, including colonial and Victorian motifs. Anna – tutor to the son of Rama IV and the central figure in the story The King and I - lived here. Visitors can only admire the exteriors of the buildings as their interiors are closed to the public.

Borom Phiman Mansion was built in 1903 by King Chulalongkorn, Rama V for the Heir Apparent, the future King Rama VI. At present it serves as the Royal Guest House for visiting Heads of State and guests of Their Majesties.

Originally the Principal Audience Hall, Phra Maha Montien was the place in which officials of state and foreign ambassadors were received in audience. Nowadays it's impressive interior is used for ceremonial occasions and coronations. It contains the antique throne, used before the Western style one presently in use.

The Grand Palace Hall or Chakri Maha Prasat was built as a royal residence for King Rama IV to commemorate the centennial of the Chakri dynasty. The king's advisors urged him to use Thai motifs to demonstrate his independence from growing Western influence; hence the Thai, temple-style roof that rests physically and symbolically on top of the imperial Victorian building. It has not been used for royal residence since the mysterious death of King Rama VIII (the older brother of the current King), found shot dead in his room in 1946. It now contains the ashes of royal family members on the third floor, the throne room and reception hall on the main floor, and a collection of weapons on the ground floor.

The whitewashed stone building nearby is the Dusit Maha Prasat Hall, originally the residence of Kings Rama I and Rama II, and now serves as the Funeral Hall. The corpse of a deceased royal figure is kept in this building for a year before it is cremated in a nearby field. Currently, foreigners are not allowed to access even the exterior of the building as the recently departed King's sister is lying in state in the building. Numerous Thais dressed in black and white still come to pay their last respect to the monarch's sister.

March 08, 2008

Food adventures in Bangkok

Except for the first night where there was a welcome dinner at the hotel, we had all our dinners ourside. The first was Seafood Market & Restaurant where one can choose from no fewer than 40 different creatures of the sea, either live or on ice, to be cooked pronto. One pushes a shopping cart and pick up the items of choice, including vegetables, pay for them at the cashier, before carting them back to the table and giving instructions on how the catch should be cooked.

The next day, we also took a dinner cruise along the Chao Phraya on the boat operated by the Shangri-La Hotel. It was the usual hotel buffet spread but the view of the many wats bathed in light at night was spectacular. Too bad the photos didn't turn out well with my ancient camera.

Baan Khanitha, an award-winning Thai restaurant is the brainchild of Khanitha Akaranitikul, an elegant lady who made her name as a designer of beautiful fashion garments for her Khanitha boutiques. Baan Khanitha, or Khanitha's home, is housed in a traditional Thai-style house. The restaurant is decorated with traditional handicrafts, paintings, plants, and decor, creating a homely ambience. We had the usual Thai fare of mango salad, tomyam kung, prawn cake (instead of the usual fish cake), stir fried asparagus with prawn, fried soft shell crab with garlic, fried fish in curry sauce and pineapple fried rice. We rounded the meal with the traditional tab tim krob and mango with sticky rice.

Newly opened, classy Maha Naga is an oasis of luxury Thai dining in the heart of the Sukhumvit area, 15 minutes walk from Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit. The name means, "big snake" or "dragon", with a fountain courtyard surrounded by high-peaked, lavishly decorated, and air-conditioned Thai pavilions. The food is a bold marriage of Thai and Western – deep fried prawn roll with plum sauce for appetizer, tom kha gai (chicken tomyam), stir fried red chilli paste with chicken breast stuffed with straw mushroom and served with white and brown rice for main, and mango with sticky rice for dessert. Though the ambience was perfect, I thought the food was just so-so, maybe because I am partial to authentic Thai food. But the coconut smoothie was heavenly – with unmistakable natural sweetness and fragrance of Thai coconut.

The set menu, table setting and drinks list

Clockwise from top left: appetizer, main course, coconut smoothie, dessert

March 06, 2008

Shopping in Bangkok

My last trip to Bangkok was in March 2006, shortly after I went back to work after maternity leave having had Yiu Yiu. She was about four months old then and my first business trip away from her lasted one whole week, with hubby taking care of her alone at night and over the weekend. I was exclusively breastfeeding her then and managed to express and brought back a decent amount of breastmilk. But I digressed; this post is not about what happened two years ago, it's about my recent trip with lots of shopping, food and more food.

Amidst the 5½ days meeting, my colleagues and I found time to go shopping. We went to Suan Lum Night Bazaar twice, but surprisingly, this time round, I didn't buy anything unlike the previous trip when I carted home numerous blouses, accessories and some little trinkets for the house. The atmosphere around Suan Lum was lively, with bars, restaurants and a huge covered food court with live bands nightly.

Most of the stuff I bought came from Pratunam Market, a big wholesale center with a vast array of inexpensive clothing. Unfortunately this place is only open till about 7pm so we only managed to go once when our meeting ended early at about 3pm one day. The other place we went was Mah Boon Krong, or MBK. Thai teenagers worship this shopping centre with inexpensive stalls and shops selling mobile phone accessories, clothings, wallets and handbags. The clothings here are more or less the same as those in Pratunam market but slightly more expensive, but I bought two imitation LeSportSac bags at THB199 each, which I thought was a steal.

March 04, 2008

Feels like I've struck the lottery

The IS guy couldn't salvage the data from my defunct hard disk but he was kind enough to let me have it so I can try to salvage the data using my own means. I have to return the hard disk to him intact though, for he needs to return it to HP as it's still under warranty.

I passed the hard disk to Othniel, Chanel's husband before I left for Bangkok. I was prepared for the worst but while I was there, I received an sms from Othniel that he managed to salvage a fair bit of the data I wanted. I was excited at the prospect of recovering all my lost photos. After my return, I popped over to their house to have a look at what was recovered and I was in seventh heaven. Othniel managed to do the unthinkable – he practically managed to recover most of all that I wanted. And today, after finally getting an external hard disk, I went over again to copy the recovered data.

I'm really thankful to Othniel for this near impossible achievement – and tell me, how can I not feel like I've struck the lottery? Thanks again Chanel and Othniel, you guys are a totally awesome couple.

March 03, 2008

Cutting hair

Shortly after Chinese New Year, we took Yiu Yiu to hubby's aunt's saloon to cut her hair. This was her first "conscious" trip to the saloon – apart from her first trip to the hair dresser when she had her hair shaven when was two months old, her hair has always been cut by her babysitter. We told her way in advance that we were going to take her to cut her hair and being the vain little girl that she is, she was looking forward to it. We only wanted to trim her fringes as we are trying to keep her hair long. She sat on papa's lap while grandaunt worked on her hair and she cooperated very well throughout the whole process.

The process

Before and after...pretty or not?

Tanjung Sepat

We went to Tanjung Sepat on Saturday to have seafood. We normally go there for lunch but it's been five months since our last trip. The restaurant that we normally go to, Ocean Restaurant, was closed and we were told the boss is taking a break as it stayed open throughout the Chinese New Year period. We went to the restaurant next door but the food was only mediocre – we had tofu with crab meat soup, a thick soup which tasted like shark's fin soup, stir-fried pork with leek, braised shark meat in curry sauce and stir-fried yau mak. After lunch, we took some photos on the famous Lover's Bridge. On the way home, hubby mentioned that we have not been to the Bagan Lalang beach for a long time. Unfortunately we had to rush home as the part-time cleaners were scheduled to come at 4pm. Just as well, as that gives us an excuse to go for another round of seafood soon.

March 02, 2008

Funny incidents

Related to me by the babysitter:
Recently there's some coverage in the newspaper on a royal wedding. In one of the reports, there was a picture of a Sultan (better not mention from which state, lest I get into trouble!) with Raja Nazrin Shah, the Raja Muda of Perak.
Yiu Yiu (pointing to the picture of the Sultan): I don't like him.
Yiu Yiu (pointing to the picture of Raja Nazrin): I like him, he's handsome.
Oh oh! So young already so hiau!

Related to me by hubby:
While I was away in Bangkok, while getting Yiu Yiu ready for bed, hubby made a bottle of milk for her. While she's having her milk,
Hubby: Yiu Yiu drink milk milk here, papa go down to get your bottle (referring to her water bottle) OK?
Yiu Yiu: OK
While hubby is downstairs,
Yiu Yiu (shouting at the top of her lungs): Papa, papa, papa...
Hubby (rushing up to the room): What happened Yiu Yiu?
Yiu Yiu (showing him her milk bottle): Yiu Yiu bottle is here ah… Haiya! (frowning and in the tone of "What an idiot you are! Don’t you remember you just made me my milk using the milk bottle?")

Going bilingual

Hubby and I speak different languages to Yiu Yiu, hubby predominantly in Mandarin while I, predominantly English. She understands instructions and conversations in both languages and she recently can tell the same words in both languages.

While having dinner with my mum,
Yiu Yiu: Po po, mei mei (referring to Xiaoyu, her little cousin) leh?
Grandma: Mei mei sui jiao.
Yiu Yiu (turning to me): Mummy, mei mei sleeping ah.

Yiu Yiu (talking to Xiaoyu): Mei mei call Yiu Yiu che che.
Yiu Yiu (repeating herself in Mandarin): Mei Mei jiao Yiu Yiu che che.