A Letter to My Precious Ones...

Dear Tato and Allie,
As a mother, there is nothing I want more than to give you the world, to watch as you squeal with delight at all the wonderment that life has to offer. But it is not without difficulties and a heavy heart as your dad and I decide to set this family on this amazing path. While the world is filled with indescribable beauty that stirs the chambers of the heart, it is not without evils that lashes out at innocent souls. My heart becomes heavily burdened thinking of the many ugly faces of evil, despair and destruction you may witness in your lifetime. I cringe at the idea of exposing you to such elements of life. But I will never forgive myself if I allowed you, or any of us to shy away from life, give up on having a life for fear of the unknown and uncertainties. In addition, for less selfish reasons than you think, I will not shy away from my dreams of traveling the world. The dreamer in me must continue to dream in order to give you even bigger dreams. The dream chaser in me must continue to chase after that dream in order to teach you to be resilient.  So mark my words kids. For you I will be brave. I will be resilient. I will give you the world!

In the case that you won't remember a thing from our travels when you grow up, here I offer my most treasured wisdom: 

  • Life is lived. It's not watched on television or read in books.
  • Believe in the infinite possibilities the world has to offer. The world is your limit.
  • Never stop dreaming.
  • Experience the magic and the mysteries that exists in the world. See it with your eyes. Feel it with your heart.
  • Always have compassion.
  • Learn from the people you have encountered, the cultures you have been exposed to, the places you have been to. 
  • Last but not least, remember that: life is a canvas, so fill it up!
As for now, eat well and sleep tight my little ones, for you will need all your strength to receive the gift your dad and I will give you: the gift of travel; an admission into a world brimming with dreams, marvel, and miracles.


Hong Kong with Kids

While Hong Kong may be one of the top foreigner friendly cities to visit in Asia, it doesn't come off as a child friendly city for a family vacation. This crowded, fast paced city can be daunting for less experienced travelers with or without kids. Herding and towing two kids under age four through Hong Kong's Central metro station during rush hour definitely requires much tolerance, patience and strength. At first I cringed at the idea of taking 2 kids under 4 to this crowded city; in fear that it wouldn't be a kid friendly place. Once again, I was proven wrong.

Hong Kong is a city I've visited at least a dozen times within the last five years. But these frequent weekend trips always consisted of running errands, visiting relatives, occasionally taking the kids to Disneyland, and if time allows, a few hours of shopping in Harbour city. I have never once took the time to see the sights, look up new restaurants to try or find unique hotels to stay. This recent trip to Hong Kong was different. We stayed for 6 days and 5 nights instead of the usual 3 days 2 nights. In preparation for this visit, I actually did tons of research on things to do with kids in Asia's most iconic metropolis.

A Kid Friendly Hotel
Hotel: We stayed at the Ovolo Hotel on Queens Road Central.
Location: The location of the hotel was perfect! Just a 3 minute walk from Sheung Wan metro station, and 15 minute walk to Central pier, where there is access to Ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui. Hollywood Road is one street behind the hotel with a great diversity of dinning options. There is a small playground a mere 2 minute walk behind the hotel. Walk up Ladder Street next to the hotel and there is Man Mo Temple for sightseeing.
Rooms: The rooms are extremely clean and new even by my picky standards. They are a bit on the small side even for Hong Kong standards but the amenities of the hotel more than make up for this tiny flaw.
Amenities/Facilities: Free breakfast every morning. My kids loved having breakfast here. The food is nothing fancy but prepared us for a day of sightseeing. Breakfast consists of: Bread/Croissant/Bagel/Cereal, cold meat and cheese, milk, Coffee, tea, yogurt and fruits.  There are snacks (cookies and fruits) and drinks (Juice, water, tea, coffee) at the lobby throughout the day for guests. There is a happy hour where there are cheeses, dips, bread/crackers, fruits, wine and various soft drinks. It was a great way to relax after a long day of sightseeing. An Ipad can be borrowed from the concierge through out the day to use in the lounge area. We made use of their ipad a lot because we didn't bring our own. My favorite amenity is the free use of the laundry room. We only brought 2 outfits each and for the first 2 days in HK the kids had minor stomach issues. The older one puked all over his clothes and the younger one had diarrhea, so I was immensely thankful for the use of the hotel's washer and dryer. There is also a gym on the same floor as the laundry room. I didn't make use of it because I was really tired from all the sightseeing. But it was a good place to hang out and read some magazines (They have Vogue and Cosmopolitan!) while waiting for the laundry. Free Mini bar with water and juice is a great take along for sightseeing on an insanely hot summer day in Hong Kong. The kids also loved the doggie bag that contained snacks and candies. 
Service: The staff was friendly and prompt. We were able to get our rooms cleaned up right away after my son puked on the floor. The room smelled fresh with no traces of any odor. Our family was extremely grateful for not having to sleep in a foul smelling room.
Knocked out!
Happy hour at Ovolo Hotel 

Law Uk Folk Museum: Law Uk or Law House is situated 5 minutes by foot from the Chai Wan Metro station. It was once part of a Hakka Village in the 18th century. In a city bombarded by skyscrapers, this centuries old village house is a rarity. The interior has been restored in detailed to show glimpses of the daily lives of the Hakka villagers. Admission is free and the garden next to the museum offers cool respite from the scorching summer heat.
Law Uk Folk Museum
Law Uk Folk Museum interior
Hong Kong Science Museum: This museum offered a few pleasant surprises upon entering. First, the museum opens until 9PM; a great way to enjoy a night out with kids. The entrance fee is very reasonable at only 25 HKD for adults, free for children under 4 or get a weekly pass for only 30 HKD. The museum offers free admission on Wednesdays. There is a wide range of exhibitions spanning 4 floors. This is a very hands on and interactive museum which gives young learners a chance to perform experiments. There is a play area for younger children on the top floor. It is a museum kids can spend a good part of the day in. We spent nearly 3 hours here and I literally had to drag my kid out when it was time to go.
Hong Kong Science Museum

Hong Kong is like a giant open air transportation museum for kids! The city offers more modes of transportation than most cities in the world.  From electric trams to cable cars to double decker buses, getting from place to place is quite an entertaining activity for the family. It was hard to go on every single type of transportation due to our time constraint but we did try. By taking public transportation most of the time, we saved quite a bit of money as Taxis in Hong Kong are not very budget friendly. We took the double decker bus just like the open top tourist buses. Only the public bus is much cheaper. We hopped on a double decker bus at Tsim Sha Tsui pier and got off at stops that appealed to us.  It was a hassle free approach to taking in the sights without having to be constantly exposed to the summer heat.
Peak Tram to Victoria Peak
View of sunset on the Star Ferry
Electric Tram
Enjoying the view on a double decker bus
Ngong Ping Cable Car

Parks and Sights
Quarry Bay Park: Located off of the Tai Koo Metro Station, this park offers a tranquil sea view, children's playground and trails for running and hiking. But the highlight for kids is the Fireboat Alexander Grantham Exhibition Gallery. A retired fireboat turned exhibition is a treat for little boys. Exploring the interior of the boat give kids a chance to play fireman Sam. The gallery on the lower deck displayed paraphernalia of the ship through decades of service.
Fireboat Alexander Grantham Exhibition Gallery
Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade: Although not a park, the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade is a great place to take a stroll after dinner. For the ultimate tourist experience, watch the light show at 8PM on the promenade to take in Hong Kong's symbolic skyline.Visiting the promenade is something we do every time we visit Hong Kong. For some reason, we just can't get sick of this view.
Light Show at Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade
Victoria Peak
We took the peak tram up to Victoria peak for one simple reason: because the kids wanted to ride the tram. Not sure what to expect, we arrived to find that the peak offered two shopping malls, tons of dining and snacking options, the Madam Tussauds wax museum, and the best view of Hong Kong's skyline. Madam Tussauds looked promising. We would have went inside if the kids weren't so freaked out by the wax models of celebrities. The kids were not interested in shopping or the views but there were some open areas where kids can run around and expend some energy. The shopping was average, there are definitely better shopping malls in Central or Mongkok. But the sweeping panoramic views of Hong Kong island viewed from the peak surely did not disappoint.
View of Hong Kong Island from Victoria Peak

Day Trip
Lantau Island: A day trip to to the nearby island of Lantau have been made easy with the Ngong Ping 360 cable car. Exit the Tung Chung metro station and up an escalator took us to the ticket office for the cable car. Round trips to and from the island costs 125 HKD for adults and 68 HKD for children age 3 to 11. The 20 minute scenic ascent up to the island reveals breathtaking views of Hong Kong's natural beauty. Although it is quite touristy once you arrive at the cable car terminal on Lantau island, but the Po Lin Monastery and the giant Buddha is still worth exploring.  
Giant Buddha in Po Lin Monastery

Hong Kong is a gourmet paradise. Food ranges from hole in the wall cafes/tea houses to world renowned Michelin star restaurants. There is something for every budget and palate. There is no shortage of dining options even late into the night.
Restaurants of Note: The Press Room serves up delicious and delicately prepared French food in a fine dining setting with reasonable prices. Ordering off of the set dinner menu offers great value for the money meals at 280HKD. However, no trip to Hong Kong is complete without splurging (monetary and caloric wise) on some dim sum. Restaurants such as the Liu Yuan Pavilion is where locals like to spend Sunday mornings catching up with friends and family. I've also been told by several Hong Kong relatives of mine that this dim sum restaurant has excellent sanitary standards. They called this restaurant Liu Yuan Pavilion for a reason. This restaurant is huge!!! The place is packed on the weekends. Hong Kong residents sure like their Dim sum. Luckily my relatives made a reservation days ahead.
Crab Cake at The Press Room

Hong Kong is a city where we can really travel light, even with kids. Clothing, baby food, diapers, medicine, bottled water etc. is easily accessible. Drug stores are abundant and some even have pharmacist on sight for consultation. Drug store chains like Watsons and Manning can be spotted on nearly every other block.  

My kids (age 3 and 1) had a wonderful time in Hong Kong. They have been real troopers throughout this trip. Not once did they complain of the noisy traffic, the crowds, the stifling summer heat, or the stomach flu they suffered from for the first 2 days of our trip. The kids and I really bonded during this trip. It also made me realize that although we've spent nearly all of our waking hours together, we've never really spent much quality time together. Staying at a hotel saved me time on cleaning, eating at restaurants saved me tons of time on cooking; which allowed me to spend much needed quality time with the kids. It was wonderful to watch them play and immerse in the sounds of their laughter. Not being on the brink of mommy burnout allowed me the patience to be the mother I strive to be. On this trip the kids were finally able to catch glimpses of the fun loving side of their mommy.
Victoria Peak


Nostalgic Hong Kong

As soon as I step outside of the Hong Kong airport, I was engulfed by the aroma of Hong Kong. Hong Kong; literally translates to Fragrant Harbor, has a scent that beckons even the most introverted soul. The metropolitan madness of Central emits intoxicating fumes of diesel, cigarette smoke, cologne and the ocean. As disgusting as it may sound, it's actually not. The combination of these smells manifests itself into a strong presence of possibilities. Endless dreams of making big bucks, or of owning an apartment overlooking Tsim Sha Tsui lingers in the smells of freshly pressed suits of the office workers, the second hand smoke of over stressed hedge fund managers, the cologne of foreign CEO's. The smell of salt is carried by a breeze like a promise of properity as infinite as the ocean. Standing amidst these people made me wonder: "Is this anything like the Hong Kong Dad arrived to some 25 years ago?" Standing on the central pier, I conjured up an image of a time, way back when my dad was walking among these urban creatures with a cigarette in hand, all decked out in custom suits made from the finest Italian wool. I wondered if he too was enticed by the scents of big dreams and possibilities.     

The air in residential areas however, is drastically different. Colonies of densely populated buildings almost always contain traces of incense, Cantonese stir fry and laundry. In other words, it smells like mama's cooking, laundry hanging on the balcony to dry and puzzling traces of incense smoke. There is a kinship derived from the combination of these scents. It's the scent of families, neighbors, communities. Mrs. Chen asks her neighbor Mrs. Lam for the recipe of her famous chicken soup. Miss Cheung catches the eye of Mr. Kong while hanging up the laundry and smiles shyly in greeting. The Choi family is burning incense for an anniversary of an ancestor's passing. The aroma of thousands of residents within the community conjures up a rather festive ambiance each and every evening. To many Hong Kong natives, this is what home smells like. These aromas are like an anti anxiety fix to the working men and women coming home at the end of the day, and it is a daily reminder of the importance of kinship and traditional values for the children.

My latest trip to Hong Kong however, proved to be a disappointing one. I don't know if it's China's changing policy on Hong Kong or the explosion of Chinese tourists treating Hong Kong like a wholesale market by showing up with huge empty suit cases and raiding all the malls and luxury brand stores, or maybe it's both that just completely altered the atmosphere. The nostalgia I had hoped to catch glimpses of has nearly disappeared. I desperately searched for glimpses of the Hong Kong of my childhood and hoped to capture any remaining traces of this city's colonial heritage.

View from Victoria Peak

Law Uk Folk Museum

HK Science Museum

Tsim Sha Tsui Pier

Ferry docking on Tsim Sha Tsui Pier

View from Central Pier

Taken on the Ferry towards Central Pier

On Ferry

Electric Tram in Sheung Wan

Fire boat on Quarry Bay


Taipei: Love It! Hate It! Love It!

I have a love/hate relationship with Taipei. I really do. This city and its people puzzles me, excites me, inspires me, frustrates me, challenges me...Below is a list of things I love and hate about Taipei that shows my struggles in making peace with the city.

Walk-ability (Love it!): Taipei is a very walkable city for two reasons: I feel safe walking on most of the streets in Taipei at any time of the day and there are lots of opportunities to window shop while getting from point A to point B. Walking anywhere in Taipei is never boring.

Pollution (Hate it!): The smog, second hand smoke and carbon dioxide emitted by 2 million people can be a bit suffocating; especially during the stifling summer heat. Everywhere I go, I can't help but notice the smell of diesel. The only way to get some semi fresh air is to get out of the city. 

Eating (Love it!): Taipei is gastronomical heaven! Street food is abundant at anytime of the day. There is also a diverse collection of exotic cuisine for any budget. But the ever changing choices of fine dinning is what I live for. Fresh ingredients paired with exceptional culinary artistry with prices set at only half of that in Europe, it is a luxury I've learned to splurge on. 

Endless lines (Hate it!): There is something popping up in Taipei every week. A new restaurant, bar, clothing store. The trends come and go so quickly. One thing for certain that does not go out of style is...the endless lines. Everywhere you go, you see lines. If there is a new restaurant you want to check out, think again, because so does the rest of Taipei's population. My worst nightmare: getting a table for Sunday brunch and ice monster during the summer.

Long Summers (Love it!): This one may be more subjective because I personally love summer. I love extended hours of daylight, I love the bright colors this city possesses in the summer, I even love the choking heat at the height of summer because it makes being in an air conditioned room much more delectable. Most of all, I love being able to walk around in shorts and a t-shirt 9 months out of the year. I also take advantage of summer sales that usually occur in July and August. Since Taipei summers last until at least the end of November, which means I don't have to wait a whole year to wear my new purchases.

Humidity (Hate it!): Am I melting? The 90 percent humidity plus high temperature in the summer will have you feeling like a block of melting ice.  However, in the winter months, the lack of sunshine in combination with the high humidity imposes a health hazard. MOLD! Humidity harbors mold to grow and food to perish at an accelerated rate. Which means endless cleaning and scrubbing. It's not rare to see a layer of mold on a piece of furniture that has not been used or cleaned for a mere couple of days.  

Night life (Love it!):  There is a versatile selection of nocturnal haunts to frequent in Taipei. The Night markets are popular for locals and tourists alike. There are pubs and bars that stay open until 5-6AM, 24hr eateries are posted all over Taipei, 24hr tea shops, karaokes, and Eslite (xinyi) has a 24hr book store. With such a vibrant night life, sleeping seems overrated.

Mosquitoes (Hate it!): I can't say that Taipei is mosquito infested, because it's really not that bad. But during the spring and early summer, those little leeches can do some damage. Especially for me whose allergic reaction to mosquitoes include swollen limbs. I've tried several mosquito repellents and some have worked fairly well but I absolutely hate the smell.

Leisure activities and events (Love it!): Taipei is like an energizer bunny that never runs out of battery. No matter what time of the day it is, you'll never lack for something to do. There are countless studios offering dance, yoga, and singing classes at very affordable prices with many sessions to choose from. Famous event venues like Songshan Cultural and Creative Park or Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall have events going on nearly every day of the week. The only downside: so much to do but not enough time to do it. 

Rain (Hate it!): From November and December 2011 there were less than 20 hours of sunshine. Outside of those 20 precious hours of sun, Taipei was smothered by a constant depressing drizzle for what seemed like a coup d'etat by the dark forces. It's depressing just to think about.   

Public transportation (Love it!): I love living in a city where there is no need to own a car or drive one. Even better that I will never find myself having to squeeze a mid size sedan into a compact parking space. Public transportation is cheap and easy to use in Taipei. It will get you to anywhere you want to go. Taxis are also easily accessible. You can flag one down and the driver will stop pretty much regardless of where you're standing.

Expensive housing (Hate it!): Every inch of land is gold in Taipei's city center. Apartment rentals and sale prices are nearly 5 times of that in other parts of Taiwan. If you're the type that dreams of a house with a beautiful garden, you can forget about living in Taipei. Individual houses are for the filthy rich and powerful. The rest of us normal middle class folks live in apartment buildings. But with real estate price hikes and a sluggish economy in the recent years, even tiny apartments no where near a metro station is not easily affordable.

Afternoon tea (Love it!): Whether you opt for an opulent afternoon at a 5 star hotel or just a quick snack off the street vendors, Taipei will not disappoint when the clock hits 3:15PM. Unlike most people who cannot venture out in public alone without a book, I delight at the chance to have afternoon tea by myself. On a day I can get away from the kids for a while, I head to my favorite afternoon jaunt in Bellavita's A3 to drown myself in coffee and stuff my tummy with delicately made mini sandwiches and decadent pastries.

What do you love or hate about Taipei?


10 Things I Wish My Kids Would Know

Evenings in my house feels like a carnival. There are kids running around, toys are thrown everywhere, the aroma of some kind of stir fry radiating from the kitchen, kids crying, kids screaming, the phone ringing, music playing... The atmosphere is chaotic, frenetic, whimsical. But there is an important lesson that can be learned here: don't cry over spilled milk. There really is no time for that. 5PM-9PM reminds me of the trading floor on Wall Street. There is no time to stop and think, just do. Then 9PM hits and the kids are in bed and peace is restored in the household. That's when I walk around the house and appraise the damage. At that point, my house resembles the crime scene of a robbery. If there is a CSI:Taiwan, it should definitely be filmed in my house.

I'm not complaining because being a mom is still incredibly fulfilling. More fulfilling than any job I've ever had. (And I've had a lot of jobs.) But during those few rare moments of idleness, I can't help but wonder if my kids can distinguish between the sensible person that I am and the screaming, hair pulling, crazy women they encounter every evening. while they're still so young, there is no way to get them to understand the havoc they put me through everyday, but hopefully in time they will see my plight and realize the following:


Beating Jet Lag in Taipei

The hardest part about traveling is having to reset your biological clock every time you change time zones. Getting over jet lag can be tiring and such a hassle. After coming back to Taipei after many trips, I find that this city makes the transition rather easy and pleasant.

Arriving in the morning
Upon arriving at a destination after a long international flight, there is nothing more enticing than to have a long shower and a big breakfast. When arriving in the morning, most often hotels are not ready for check in. But you can store your luggage at the hotel and head out to one of the hot springs around Taipei to get that much needed shower and pampering. There are plenty of conveniently located hot spring resorts around Taipei where you can get a private room for a couple of hours at a very reasonable price. If you're not shy about mingling with locals and tourists in the nude, there are also public hot spring pools for as little as 200-500NT and you can stay as long as you like. You can soak away all the fatigue and stiffness from a long flight, and if budget allows, foot or body massages is available in many hot spring resorts. After a much needed shower and relaxation, delicious meals can be had within the resorts. And if you're on a tight budget, there are always snacks and meals to be bought in local convenience stores surrounding the hot springs.


Taipei With Kids

Taipei, at first glance, is just another densely populated metropolis in Asia; not exactly a place for a family vacation. Especially true where metropolitan areas are now taken over by DINK couples (Dual Income with No Kids), the need to cater to children and babies is even less of a priority. Is Taipei following this trend where it gets increasingly difficult to travel with kids in a metropolitan city? Having lived in or near Taipei for over 5 years and having had 2 kids later, I feel that it's only fair to take a closer look at how child friendly this city really is. This is what I conclude after careful reflection of my experience in this city: TAIPEI MORE THAN QUALIFY AS A KID FRIENDLY CITY. Here is why:


Macao with Kids

Grand Lisboa Hotel
Macao, termed the Las Vegas of the East, is the last place anyone would think to take their kids to. Some 20 years ago, no one would even consider taking their kids with them when they go to Macau.  It was definitely frowned upon. The city pooled with casinos, strip clubs, bars and luxury international hotel and resort chains, has always been a popular destination for bachelor/bachlorette parties. But times are changing. The city once filled with adult entertainment, gangs and prostitutes are now widely advertised for its cultural heritage sites, eclectic museums, and Michelin starred restaurants. In addition, the era of leaving your kids with the Grandma while Daddy and Mommy go out and play is slowly fading. The present trend of attachment parenting has slowly transformed even "adults only" destinations like Macau into a family friendly destination.


Lake Bled in the Middle of Winter

The bus dropped us off in a place that seems like the middle of a residential neighborhood. Fortunately, the tourist information is only a few steps away. As a fanatic of castles, I immediately asked the girl sitting behind the counter at the tourist information office how to get up to the castle that is literally hanging on the side of a cliff. She advised us that there is a route for cars and it would be way too far for us to walk. Then she suggested an alternative. And what an alternative it was! We literally climbed up the castle on our hands and feet on slippery ice and knee deep snow. On the way down, we took the car route and realized that it does not take long at all! Not to mention it was an easy stroll back down. If I had any energy left from that earlier climb, I would've charged back to that tourist information office and let the clerk have a piece of my mind.
The climb up to the castle


5 Worldly Escapes at Home

Kayumanis Villa, Bali
As much as I would like to have the freedom of jet setting around the world whenever I like, raising two kids just doesn't allow for that to happen. While that might not be anything to complain about, I do miss the destinations I've visited over the years and the freedom to pack up my bags and escape reality for a couple of days. So while the kids are napping, I conjured up a recipe for 5 worldly escapes I already enjoy at home to share with other like minded moms. Enjoy!


I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Prague

Due to unforeseen circumstances , this post was not finished before the end of the contest, therefore it has not been entered. However, I still feel it should be posted for travelers who may find the content useful.

When I saw a post for the "Go with Oh" blogging competition on world traveler Connie Hum's blog, I knew I would enter regardless of what the prize may be. Competition requires that bloggers choose a city from the listed 10 destinations and create a wish list of 5 things they'd most like to do or experience in that city. I didn't even have to finish reading the list of cities to choose Prague. Although the winner of the competition will get free accommodations on 4 cities in Europe for 1 month, the experience of writing about Prague is already a treat in itself. Now I have a reason to sit in front of my computer and daydream about Prague!

Prague is on most people's bucket list. Although I've already had the privilege of visiting the city twice, I still dream of going back from time to time. I can't really pinpoint exactly what captivated my heart to the city but I can only compare the experience to falling in love at first sight.

If I ever get to visit Prague again, I would like to experience the following:


Body After Baby (Part 2): Belly Dancing

You can read Body After Baby Part 1 here...

During my first belly dancing lesson, my mind was bombarded by one question...


But let's start at the beginning...
I went to class 10 minutes early. There was a hip hop class still in session. I was beyond nervous. I was afraid that myself esteem would suffer after walking in and finding out that I would be the oldest and fattest one. But that's totally not the case. All that worrying was for nothing.

The first thing I noticed was a little girl sitting in the corner playing with an ipad. I scanned the class for the little girl's mother. It could be anyone in the class. They all looked to be in their early 30's and at least one of them is a mom. Whew! I was instantly relieved. While they are all very fit moms in their 30's, I was just happy to know that I won't be the only one exposing a tummy with stretched and wrinkled skin.

The previous class had already ended and I still haven't seen any signs of other students coming in. There were 3 people ready for class: me, another student from the previous hip hop class and the teacher.  I haven't experienced the same level of anxiety since my last piano recital some 17 years ago.

"There were supposed to be 8 students total, but I guess they're a no show." The teacher announced.

What? What? What? Just the three of us dancing in this studio full of mirrors? There is no where to hide! I was totally expecting to be able to stand at the back of the class. As I started to panic a little, the teacher started the warm up. Hm...that doesn't look too hard. I can do that. After the warm up ended, the teacher started teaching the choreography for the dance. That's when my self confidence hit rock bottom again. I looked at myself in the mirror while doing the moves and I cringed. I looked like I was mimicking the walk of an ostrich. I wasn't sure what kind of dance class I was in: belly dancing or locking. That's how awkward my moves were. I avoided looking at the mirrors and concentrated on observing the teacher instead. Much better.

At the end of the class we were able to put our moves to the music. Although my moves were not even in the same planet as being perfect, moving to the music felt great. Exhilarating! I was smiling! So who cares if I looked like a flopping ostrich. I'm having fun!

Before leaving the class, the dance teacher stopped me and asked "where have you been taking belly dancing lessons?" 

"No where. I've only taken a couple of classes 5 years ago, before I had kids." I answered.

"No way! You have kids? You look so young! You haven't been taking belly dancing lesson regularly? I can't believe it. You dance so well!" Teacher commented.

"Thanks, you really don't have to say that, I still plan on coming back since I've already paid my tuition in full. Don't worry. But really, thanks for those kind words and encouragement anyway." I said sincerely.

I walked out of class a lot more relaxed, more confident than when  I walked in. 

What I learned from belly dancing class (besides the belly dancing)...
  • Once you take the first step, the rest is easy.
  • It's not about how you look, it's about how you feel. 
  • To be young at heart.
  • Be more positive, things are never as bad as they seem.


Body After Baby (Part 1)

With Hollywood's recent baby boom, I can't help but notice the topics on most magazine covers: "How Kourtney Kardashian lost the baby weight" or "Gisele Bundchen's body after baby."  All I see is how flat Jessica Alba's abs are one month after having a baby or Victoria Beckham getting back to size zero eight weeks after giving birth. Even more outrageous: several Victoria's Secret Angels were famously known for getting back on the runway only weeks after having a baby! It's as if there is some kind of competition to see who can lose the most weight in the most freakishly speedy manner. Don't get me wrong though, this is not a debate on whether celebrities should or should not lose so much weight in so little time. I just purely want to point out that this topic of "losing weight postpartum" must be a big enough of a concern to most women to have the celebrity moms grazing the covers of popular magazines with with their svelte postpartum bodies. I'm sure with all the casting directors, critics, and paparazzi breathing down their necks constantly is more motivation than any of us "normal folks" will ever get to lose the baby weight. They just don't have the time to take it slow according to the one pound a week recommendation by doctors. Yeah sure they have the personal chefs and trainers and nannies to look after their babies while they work out but Personal chefs and trainers can't lose the weight for them. They still have to do the work just like the rest of us. In a way, they deserve to look great after the hard work they've put in. I mean Jessica Alba hit the gym two weeks after giving birth, Beyonce's fitness regimen starts at 5AM, Kate Hudson works out daily for 3 hours, Jennifer Lopez works out for 45 minutes to 2 hours 4 to 6 days a week, etc... Not to mention most celebrity moms are fit prior to getting pregnant and worked out for the duration of their pregnancy. Now how many of us can even match half the effort they put in after having a baby? I know I couldn't. I had tons of excuses for not exercising after having a baby.

Excuses, Excuses
  • I just had a baby. I need the rest
  • I'll lose weight from breastfeeding
  • It's too hot to exercise in the summer
  • Breastfeeding is too time consuming to have time to exercise
  • The baby kept waking up at night, so too sleep deprived to exercise
  • Ha! This is my favorite: my husband will love me no matter what I look like. 


Horse Meat: To eat or not to eat?

Horses have played an important role throughout history. During the turbulent periods, many wars and battles were fought on horse back. During peaceful times, horses were used for transportation and leisure. Horses were hunted by the indigenous people of Argentina and Chile after they were introduced by the conquistadors during the age of exploration. Mongolians have a long history of utilizing mare's milk as a beverage as well as making alcoholic beverages and cheeses out of it. Even Napoleon's army was said to have eaten the meat of horses that died in battle. But times have changed. We now see horses as friends, as pets, as an animal with a soul; we humanized them. Horses now live in ranches and are better groomed and maintained than most household pets. Their status have been elevated to healers as "Equine Therapy" became increasingly popular in helping individuals with emotional and psychological issues.

Sitting at a fairly touristy restaurant in Ljubljana, Slovenia, clutching on to the above precedents, my husband and I stared at the menu listing "horse steak" for a long time. The menu lists the size of the meal and the price, so you know how much money you've wasted if you don't like eating it, but It doesn't tell you what it will taste like or how it will affect your conscious after consuming it. Another 10 minutes of small talk went by between the two of us, the whole while avoiding the subject of horse meat, I guess we were both waiting for the other to give in and make a decision. Finally, my husband can take no more of my beating around the bushes.


New Year's Resolution 2012: Buy Less to Have More

My new year's resolution for this year is to spend less money on materialistic items and use that money saved for creating interesting life experiences instead. Definition of interesting life experiences includes but not restricted to: Tango lessons for me and the hubby, kung fu lessons for Tato, music lessons for Allie and eventually more family trips. This will mean spending less on Clothing, shoes, toys, gadgets, and other nick knacks that are good to have but I don't need. This is going to be more difficult than I thought when my favorite online shops (Shopbop, Revolveclothing, Endless) offer free worldwide shipping. I know this "living on less" or "Less is more" topic have been heavily discussed in magazines, on the internet and on blogs but adapting my life to it is harder than you think. But I'm going to try my best to stick to it. I will!

Why I'm doing this
Ever since I started traveling frequently, I noticed how light I've packed no matter where in the world I went. I never pack more than 3 outfits whether I'm going on a weekend trip or 3 month long trip. Not once during these trips did I need something that I didn't pack. That's when an idea hit me: I can live with A LOT less!

With a goal of living less in mind, I started doing some research online. This is what I found....


First Impressions of Budapest

As the train pulled into Keleti Station in Budapest, I felt a surge of adrenaline rush. The station is no ordinary Eastern European train station; it is an enormous architectural masterpiece. I stepped onto the platform and it felt like I was transported back to a time where train travel was ideally romantic. We were herded by the crowd towards the exit of the station. We tried our best to blend in with the crowd and pretend like we knew where were going. It was difficult because we couldn't stop marveling at the surrounding architecture. Walking through the city to our hotel feels like walking through a giant open air museum. Every building looked so grand. It is exactly like what Frommers said about Budapest: "It is a feast for the eyes". 

From Zagreb to Budapest by Train

Glavni Kolodvor Train Station Zagreb
The early morning walk to the Glavni Kolodvor train station in Zagreb was pleasant despite the fact that it was 4AM in February. We were a little hesitant concerning the safety of walking at such an ungodly hour, but the owner of the hostel we stayed in assured us it would be absolutely safe. He was right. Our walk was pretty uneventful. There were a few people walking on the streets who seemed to pass us by without even a second glance. We took the 4:56AM train from Zagreb to Budapest. It was a 6 hour train ride. We almost didn't make it on to the train because we got on the wrong train! Luckily, we realized it just in time and ran towards the right train before the doors were closing.


The Nomad Within

What is so appealing about being a nomad? Where do I began?! Just the mention of “No Mortgage” should get you interested. But here is a short list of reasons to travel.

  • Freedom: Go where the road takes you.
  • Explore the wonders of the world: There are definitely more than 7.
  • The knowledge you accumulate during your travels. 
  • The culture you immerse yourself in
  • The people you would not have otherwise meet
  • The beauty you would not otherwise see
  • The events you would not otherwise witness
  • The paradises you would not otherwise discover
  • The food...the food...yummmmmm! 

1 Day in Zagreb, Croatia

We arrived at 10:30AM in Zagreb by train from Ljubljana. When my hubby and I walked out of the train station, our jaws dropped. How can so much change in just 2 hours by train? Zagreb is like a fusion of a Western European and Turkish city. It has the grandeur of cities that boasts of its spot in the list of UNESCO World Heritage City but also the friendly and welcoming people you would find in small villages.

Breastfeeding on the Road

Contrary to what most people think, breastfeeding on the road is actually a lot more convenient than bottle feeding. New moms often feel chained to the rocking chair at home because they're nursing. But it doesn't have to be that way. Once mommy's milk supply is established and the baby is overall comfortable with nursing, it is very possible to travel domestically and internationally with your baby. Here is why:

Barcelona with Kids

While doing some research on Barcelona, I came upon a section on Traveling with Children in Spain on Wikitravel 

Toddler happiness is considered a public responsibility in Spain: in any public place people around you put every effort into making your toddler happy: whenever he or she looks bored or is crying, everyone does their best to entertain or to calm them.

Sounds like the perfect place for a family vacation. But for some reason, when my husband and I announced to our friends and relatives that we were going to Spain with 2 kids (2 years and 11 months toddler and 5 month old baby), some of them laughed in our faces and said that we will not be there for the sights but actually to stay at the hotels. Despite the negative outlooks, we still ventured out and had a blast! Wikitravel can not be more right about Spain. The city is so kid friendly that I might even compare it to Disneyland. The people of Barcelona deserves a special mention because I just couldn't believe how friendly they are to kids. When we carried strollers and babies up and down stairs of metro stations, people passing by always offered help carrying baby equipments for us. Not only am I in love with the city but with the people as well. Here are some things that made our trip memorable.


2005: The Year I Caught the Travel Bug

My junior year in college was nearing an end. I had just came out of an European history class and my mind still clouded with characters like Machiavelli, Pope Alexander VI, Lorenzo De Medici... I passed by a STA (Student Travel Agency) office on campus and was suddenly sucked in by posters of towering cathedrals and fairy-tale like castles. “I'll just grab a catalog to flip through when I'm bored”, I thought. As soon as I walked into my apartment, dumped my backpack and studied every page on that catalog. From London to Istanbul, from Beijing to Bangkok, European highlights, Experience Peru, Tastes of Morocco, plus page after page of promise for the greatest adventure of a life time. I was in a trance. What happened next was a blur. The next thing I remember was sitting at the STA office booking flights from San Francisco to London leaving on June 22nd. But I wasn't satisfied with just one purchase so I added in another plane ticket from London to Bangkok. And just before buyer's remorse kicked in, the travel agent mentioned that for an extra $100 I can catch a flight from Bangkok to Beijing. Sure, why not? Not until I walked out of the office with ticket in hand did this just dawned on me: I will be traveling around the world solo in two months time. Yikes! I haven't even crossed state borders on my own, let alone international borders. Worse yet, I haven't even told my parents! But I'm sure they will find out through their next credit card statement.
I argued with myself over this impulsive, if not reckless behavior for a month. After much time spent defending and justifying this particular plan of mine, I came up with the following conclusions: