Koh Samui - Yoga Retreat

At the end of June we had a week of extreme smog/haze and PSI over 400 in Singapore. I felt very fortunate to have been away in Koh Samui on a yoga retreat with lots of fresh air. This holiday was purely dedicated to wellness and it was fantastic. Raw food, meditation every morning from 7:30am-8:30am, Qi Gong from 8:45am-10am, yoga from 11am - 12:30pm.  Though I had the afternoons and evenings off to relax the days felt very full and sadly seemed to fly by.  

Beautiful pool and my new friend in yoga class! I promise I don't search for these animals they just seem to find me!

Post yoga snack - coconut water and green juice (kale, spinach and beets).

The view from the Chalets was unbeatable, with a forest of palm trees leading down to the fishing village of Lamai, and the Gulf of Thailand sparkling in the mid-day sun for as far as I could see.

On my way to yoga!

Yoga Sala - in the jungle

Day 1 headstand:

Day 7 headstand:

Pasarbella Birthday letdown

Singapore finally has a permanent farmer's market! I love farmer's markets and have been looking forward to this place opening for a long time! Sadly, with memories of the amazing farmers markets in the US I think my expectations for Singapore might have been a little high. The idea is incredibly cool but after walking around Pasarbella I was disappointed to find so many stalls from existing restaurant chains from around is the island. Imagine the fast food type restaurants you would find in a food court in a large shopping mall.  None of the food choices were bad but there was nothing really very healthy or unique about the options.

One of the highlights of the market was a section with a large selection of seafood called Oceans of Seafood where you could pick out your seafood and have it steamed or cooked how you liked it which would have been excellent except for the fact that they were clearly understaffed and were not able to take any new orders that required cooking.  I was thankfully able to convince the guy to open a few Fanny Bay oysters for me so I could have something to eat for my birthday lunch!

Overall Pasabella was a big letdown for me.  Sure, if I'm up there again (its about a 30min taxi ride from our place in Singapore) one of these days I might stop by for another try at some steamed crab legs. But otherwise, there wasn't really anything that exciting at the market. It has only been open for a few weeks so hopefully more interesting stalls will appear down the road but my overall first impression was disappointing.

Before we left we did find a stall that was making a fresh batch of paella that smelled amazing.  We decided to order it take-away for our dinner that evening which we enjoyed by the Koi Pond at home with a bottle of Astrolabe Sav Blanc (our favorite wine from our tastings in New Zealand).  It was a mellow low key Birthday at home but fun to spend it with my guy!

Singapore's Sundown Half Marathon

Unlike most marathons, the Sundown is special in one very different way - It’s held at night with the race beginning just before midnight.

The race took place on a Friday night May 31st.  Of course the weather at 5pm  on Friday was rather most uncooperative.  There was a massive thunderstorm downpour which lasted for several hours. I kept thinking if the rain kept up it could be one of the worst races ever! I even did a quick check on the sundown marathon website to see if they were considering canceling if the rain continued but found nothing. Thankfully the rain finally stopped at around 8:30pm and by 10pm the skies were pretty clear.

Kingsley decided to take a quick nap after work before the race began and slept from 7pm-9:30pm but I was too nervous to sleep so watched TV and continued to obsessively check the weather outside every 5 minutes.

When we finally arrived at the F1 pits which was the start of the race, security was pretty tight - likely due to the recent Boston Marathon incident.  But everything in Singapore seems to be incredibly well organized and the Sundown race was no exception.  We had our bags checked in no time and so headed to the starting line with about 15 minutes to spare before the race began. 

The nighttime running was fun -  I really enjoyed the stillness and peacefulness of running in the dark.  Neither Kingsley or I achieved any great times on our runs but we felt great and had fun which is what its all about.  

We finally made it home and fell asleep at about 4:30am just as the sun was starting to wake up! 

Jen Jen and Kingsley post half marathon race.

Japan - Kyoto temples

There are somewhere around 2000 temples and shrines in Kyoto.  We absolutely loved our time there and could have spent days visiting many of the different historical sites but for the short time we had this trip we chose to explore a few of the more well know temples and gardens. If these temples were anything to go by, I can only hope that we will return again someday to visit some of the other amazing places in Kyoto. 
Kiyomizu Temple

Located halfway up Otowa Mountain in the eastern part of Kyoto City, Kiyomizu temple is a historic temple that was built in 778, even before Kyoto became the capital of Japan. Kiyomizu (the temple of clear water) was named after the Otowa Waterfall. Water from a spring in the mountain has been falling there since its foundation.

A walk to the bottom of the temple took us to the Otowa Waterfall with 3 separate streams of water with each stream believed to have a different benefit. Kingsley and I stood in line to get to the waterfall and our turn for a sip of the clear magical waters. Everyone takes a metal cup that is attached to a long pole, holds it out to one of the streams to collect some water, and then pours it into their cupped hands to drink a sip.

From the drinker’s viewpoint, the one to the left is good for wisdom, the middle one for longevity and the one to the right is helpful for good matchmaking (major oops the matchmaking one is the one Kingsley and I drank from because there was less of a line for that one!) Thankfully our complete cluelessness about what was going on didn't get us into too much trouble - we did only drink from one stream instead of drinking from all 3 streams (the thought did cross my mind!) Drinking from all 3 streams is believed to bring very bad luck. Phew!

Ryoan-ji Garden

Created in the Muromachi period by the monk Tokuho Zenketsu, the rock garden is a pleasant place to sit and relax for a few minutes. It contains the most famous Zen garden in Japan. The garden consists of a number of small rocks surrounded by a sea of white pebbles which are painstakingly raked each day to form the ripple patterns. The origin of the garden is a bit mysterious, and one of the interesting features is that out of the 15 stones which form the design, at least one will be hidden from the viewer from any vantage point.

Kingsley and I really enjoyed Ryoan-Ji. This is the epitome of Zen landscaping, and there is something really therapeutic about staring at the rocks which looked like mountain tops peaking out above white clouds.


Outside the rock garden is this beautiful fountain with 4 kanji characters on it.  The exact translation is somewhat open to interpretation but the most common I heard was:
"I only know what I need to know" or "I am satisfied with what I know" and "Learn only to be contented".

Or, in other words, one's goal should be contentment. You should meditate or reflect on things that make you content. I like it! 

Kinkaku - Golden Pavillion

One of the top attractions, Kinkaku, Golden Pavilion temple is a Zen temple whose top two floors are completely plastered with gold leaves. Though it looks incredibly peaceful in the photos, we found it a bit difficult to enjoy the zen with flocks of other tourists scrambling around to get their perfect shot of the temple. Also I was in a bad mood as my camera memory card was full by the time we reached Kinkaku temple.  I guess I took WAY more pics in Japan then I ever realized. These pictures were from my iphone and they turned out ok.  Thank goodness for backup cameras!

Kinkaku-ji was built in 1397. It was created to serve as a villa for Shogun Ashikaga retirement. It was quite late that the son had the building converted into a Zen temple. The Golden Pavilion was burned twice and was rebuilt after five years the final roof restoration repairs were completed in 2003.

Japan - 2013 Highlights video

Japan - Kyoto Gion Shopping and Eating

We had some of our best and worst meals during our time in Kyoto.

A Low point:
Our grocery store-bought "breakfast of shame" sitting on the street outside the Roanji Zen rock garden. We though it would be great to bring our picnic bfast into the gardens to enjoy but that was not allowed. Nor were we allowed to eat on any of the park benches directly outside the gardens as our breakfast was not purchased from the food stalls outside the gardens. So we finally walked all the way back out to the street to eat our breakfast along the side of the road. 

A Highlight:
Real life Geisha spotting on our way to dinner

Gion is where you will head to for some Geisha spotting but they are very elusive. We only spotted two one evening as they were hurrying down Pontocho and another in a bar. Nevertheless, we were fortunate enough to just get a glimpse of them on our way to dinner.

Amazing traditional Japanese dinner on the Kawadoko (or noryoyuka) dining decks built above rivers in Kyoto from late spring to autumn overlooking the Kamogawa River

Fantastic Kyoto style sushi in a tiny restaurant tucked away in covered shopping street.

Kyoto is located in inland Japan, and years and years ago it was difficult to obtain fresh fish. Because of its geography 70km away from the Japan Sea special recipes were made using cured fish, or fish that did not spoil too quickly. The sushi is often eaten without soy sauce because it brings out the special qualities of mackerel with salt and vinegar. Another unique aspect of Kyoto style sushi is the
the ratio of the fish to rice in each sushi piece.  Kyoto style sushi is beautiful to look at and though it is different from the sushi in other regions of Japan it tastes amazing.

Silk balls that area used as SPF

Baby octopus stuffed with quail eggs. It was unclear whether these baby octopus were still partially alive or not but I just didnt have the courage to try one to find out.  

Menu from one of the restaurants with so many options we were overwhelmed. Did we want a set of 2 hormones or 4 hormones with our order of Deluxe Mountain Chain Tripe?

One thing that stands out when eating in Japan is the care and attention to detail that the Japanese take in the presentation of even the simplest of dishes. The beauty in the presentation of food here can only be described as an art form as not only the arrangement of the food itself is considered but also the type, colour and texture of the ceramic plates and dishes is deemed of high importance. 

Customers in Japan are also lured into eating establishments by the displays of imitation food outside the restaurants and cafes. This is a never-ending source of delight and amusement for foreigners visiting in Japan as well as being an easy way of ordering when one cannot read the menu! Models of food were first made out of wax as early as 1917 and made popular by a famous Tokyo department store in 1923 resulting in a big jump in revenue as it displayed its menu in wax imitations.

These days the food models are made from plastic rather than wax and almost every restaurant employs this method to attract customers.

The plastic food factory first obtains the real food prepared by the client and each piece is put into a molding box and silicone poured in to make a mold. When the mold has hardened the real food is removed and thrown away and liquid plastic poured in. The casting is then heated in an oven to harden it before being painstakingly painted by hand.

Kingsley standing next a long line of famous Japanese restaurants overlooking the beautiful Kamogawa river.