Thursday, April 26, 2012

Melbourne - Cafes, Coffee and Coffee

I’ve been to Melbourne twice, both in the summer.  The first time it was cold and gloomy.  The second, in 2008 for the Australian Open, was hot and sunny.  In Sydney, a Melbournite told me, “If you don’t like the weather in Melbourne, wait 5 minutes”.  He was of course referring to the unpredictable, variable weather.  This time, I was blessed with mostly beautiful weather, even though the week before I arrived was very cold.

I was very fortunate to have a lovely place to stay, with the most gracious of hosts - who kept trying to feed me :o).  Yes, he's Singaporean.  Melbourne is transitioning to a tap on – tap off ticketing system (like our ez-link cards) covering trains, buses and trams.  One feature which I liked was a maximum daily charge (so you never paid more than $x/day).  There are also weekly or monthly travel packages.  Something the Singapore government should look into if they want to encourage people to take more public transport.

Melbourne is serviced by trams, which sometimes stop in the middle of the road.  This means that when you get off, you have to cross a lane of traffic in order to get to the side of the road.  

Melbourne tram - note the lane between the tram and side of the road

Cars are supposed to stop behind the tram and give way to passengers alighting from the tram.  I laughed to myself thinking of how this would NOT work in Singapore, where cars ignore  zebra crossings - actually some accelerate when they see one, I swear.  Passengers would probably be stuck on the tram in Singapore, trying not get hit by the cars!

One highlight was the warm, welcoming yoga community.  My good friend teaches morning Ashtanga classes and I had the pleasure of meeting 2 of her students in Mysore.  They became my ‘’kaki’’ for coffee after class, lunch, cheese&wine in the country, the international comedy festival, watching the pilot episode of Game of Thrones season 2 etc.   The Ashtanga yoga practitioners I get along with have a common love for ashtanga yoga, coffee/chai, food, chocolate and having a good laugh.  The Melbourne yoga crew were all that.  They didn’t take their yoga too seriously and could laugh about their practice and themselves - just my kind of people.  I had a great time with them, felt very at home and was sad to leave.

I was also fortunate to be given the opportunity to cover 4 morning Mysore classes because my friend was going out of town.  These were the first Mysore classes I’d taught in almost 6 months.  I was dubious about teaching because of my injured shoulder but the teaching assistants were brilliant and with such chill students, it was a pleasure to cover the classes.

Practice-wise, I could only do a baby practice.  As with any injury, one is faced with the dilemma of continuing to practice & working with the discomfort or resting completely.  Many concerned people (especially with medical connections) were uncomfortable with the fact that I continue to practice.  That planted some doubt in my mind, but having worked with this body in this way for more than 10 years, I am inclined to go with my instincts.  My practice actually became better in that even though physically I am not doing as much, mentally I’m more present and focused.  You have to in order to know how far to go and when to pull back.  I did continue to take it easy though, if anything felt too sore, I’d back off the next day.  It definitely helped to stretch and it was nice to continue my ‘yoga holiday’.

On the touristy side, Melbourne took me down the Art Gallery route.  I have a one-hour attention span with museums / galleries.  After that, my brain shuts down. After consultation with the Lonely Planet, I visited the 2 National Galleries of Victoria (NGV) - one dedicated to Australian art and the other, to International art.

NGV Australia

NGV International - the blurry background is actually recycled water running down the glass

10,000 pieces of individually cut glass make up this beautiful roof

I joined the free tours so I actually learned something instead of aimlessly wandering around. My favourite was the Indigenous art collection which surprised me with the bright, vibrant colours.

I also visited a beautiful garden which used to be the residence of 2 pioneer supporters of contemporary art in Melbourne.  The 2 houses (one old, one modern) were converted into art galleries and there are sculptures scattered throughout the spacious grounds.

Lifting my arms was actually painful - but have to 'ren' and smile instead of grimace

I happened to be in Melbourne during the International Comedy Festival.  The free acts by street performers were good fun.  I love comedy, especially stand-up so I also got tickets to see a local comedian.  Sadly, he wasn’t as great as the reviews found him. My ‘kaki’ who usually draw attention by laughing raucously in public were completely silent throughout the act.

I went on 2 outings to wine and cheese country.  I have a pretty rubbish wine palate and I am not a big fan of cheese (I like ordinary cheddar!) but it was really fun to get out of the city.  I guess the only reason I was invited was as a back-up driver?

Views from the Chandon vineyard in the Yarra Valley

My friend was supposed to be in the foreground - but he couldn't stand straight after the wine-tasting ;o)

Another tourist memory was visiting St Kilda’s beach (cold and windy like Brighton) at dusk to wait for the penguins to come home.  They’re a small species, even full-grown … very cute.  Lots of tourists come to watch the penguins swim in one by one, hop up onto the sand and disappear into their nests in the rocks.  My friend volunteers with a group that helps manage the tourists so that they don’t use white light flash or disturb the penguins.  Sadly, it’s my fellowmen, the Chinese tourists who ‘Bu Ting Hua’ ie don’t listen.

Full-grown penguin lit up by a torch covered with red cellophane paper

The search for the elusive ‘healthy’ bran/wholemeal muffin continued … and sadly didn’t end in Melbourne.  The coffee was SO GOOD though.

I’m not sure if it’s the quality of the coffee, milk, foam, the way they’re combined or all the above.   I drank one or two a day – so nice to sit in the ever-present sidewalk cafe.  Chai – what’s that? :o)  I had to wait for my latte once while they made another.  Apparently, the one they were going to give me didn’t pass the test.  It was too flat.  How’s that for quality control.

Good-bye Australia, I had a blast.  Time for some tropical weather with gorgeous views and lovely breezes.  Fun in the sun, while I watch from the shade … Hawaii, here I come!

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Land of Kangeroos, Koalas, Possums and Wallabies

… of which I saw none of (not even stuffed toy versions!).  Ironically, the closest I came to was Kangeroo jerky and that was when I arrived in Honolulu.

My first stop after leaving Singapore was Sydney.  I’d been once before, when I was 11.  It was the worst heat wave Australia had experienced in years, with bush fires spontaneously erupting everywhere.  My memories are of dry heat and dead vegetation.  This time Sydney left me with images of brilliant blue skies, green vegetation and water (lots of it).  There were some really cold days (grey, windy and rainy) which kept me indoors but thankfully, most days were lovely.

Being a tourist was never an objective for this trip.  Blame it on my extended time in Mysore but I was quite happy to relax and not do very much.  I was asked many times, “What would you like to do? What do you want to see?’’.  My answer was always, ‘’Er, I don’t know.  Haven’t thought about it’’.  

I did do some touristy stuff in Sydney.  It’s a beautiful city, especially from the water.  I love the use of ferries as a form of transport, even for working people.  I also loved the coastal walks, with beaches being connected by walkways.  I’d walk one way and then use the bus for the return trip.

er ... a beach (can't remember which one)

Another part of the coastal walk - with a cemetary right on the water's edge

Close-up of the cemetary

Yoga-wise, my aim of practicing with different teachers and in other studios hit a stumbling block.  On my 3rd day, I had a bad injury with my shoulder.  It was bad enough that I didn’t practice for the rest of my time in Sydney.  It was awful not being to practice but I actually started to enjoy sleeping in until the sun came up and then … rolling over and go back to sleep when my alarm rang.  I can definitely get used to that! :o)

Another Sydney highlight was getting in touch with dad’s old friends and their families.  Getting the local flavour is always something I treasure about each place I visit.  I’m glad that Sydney was no exception.

Since I now have a camera (on my lovely Samsung Galaxy S2 phone), I did take some photos although I feel the pressure of needing to take some photos to show everyone.

Northern tip of the Gap (I thought it was the store at first) of Sydney harbour

Oceanside view of the Southern tip of Gap

Inside view of the Gap

An old lighthouse - a wedding party arrived for a photo shoot as we were leaving

Sydney Opera House

The famous Sydney Harbour bridge

PS. I have now started drinking coffee again … how can you not in a country with such great coffee.  I think it’s also the quality of the milk.  Having said that, most of the coffee I drank in Sydney was at home and it was… instant!

PPS.  Australia also started a craving for muffins … I was little disappointed in the Aussie muffins as they were
a) smaller
b) tended to have a sugar coating
c) didn’t have wholemeal/bran versions which I prefer

I was looking for these!!
Next stop on the hunt for those elusive indigenous animals – Melbourne ...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Life is Short World tour 2012

I have taken this year off to travel.  I call it my ‘’Life is Short world tour 2012’’.

There are a few reasons why I decided to do this.  Some of you know the whole background, others some aspects and yet others just think I’m off yet again, for no apparent reason.

The decision to take this trip happened at the end of 2010, when I returned from Mysore at Christmas.  I gave myself a year to save the money in order to take 2012 off.

A few factors affected me strongly:
  • 3 close family friends (my parent’s generation) developed terminal cancer and passed away within 6 months.  I also heard of cancer striking seemingly healthy people in my age group.  It reinforced the fact that life is precious.  You cannot take your good health and that of your loved ones for granted.  Embrace the present, instead of living too much for the future.
  • I was feeling a little ‘’stuck’’.  I had a comfortable schedule of classes and things were going well.  I am not the greatest self-motivator (ie I’m Lazy) and sometimes I need to shake things up in order to push myself to grow.  I did something similar in 2008 when I quit all my classes and went to India for 5 months.  When I returned, I was forced to start from scratch again … get new classes, market them, build rapport with new students and encourage them to develop a regular practice.
  • Becoming self-employed was supposed to be flexible.  I can (supposedly) take time off whenever I want to.  However, I’d discovered that I was working nights, weekends and spending all my time off going to Mysore.   I’d always wanted to spend time in London with my brother & his family.  Another unfulfilled aim was practicing with teachers and friends from all over the world that I’d met in Mysore.  Exposing myself to other teaching styles and shala environments would make me a better practitioner and teacher.
  • Going to Mysore always meant that I had to build up my class numbers upon return.  It takes almost a year to establish a consistent student base.  So, when I decided that I wanted to take some time off in the middle of the 2012 and still go to Mysore end of the year, I figured that I might as well take the whole year off.  It wouldn’t be fair to my students (especially the beginners) to keep coming and going.
So, the result was to buy a Round the World ticket and travel east from Sydney, ending up in London, in time for the Summer Olympics.  Plus, there’s always the lure of Wimbledon and the possibility of watching Roger Federer (my hero) in action :o)

I returned from Mysore March 1 2012.  I had a hectic 2 weeks to organise everything for the trip (eg file my taxes) and to spend as much time as possible with my 4 nephews whom I would miss terribly.

March 17, I left Singapore for Sydney … and hence my tour began …

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mysore x6

I always do a mental sum-up of each Mysore trip.  I thought that this being my 6th trip, I’d have nothing new to say.  I was wrong.  As repetitive as each Mysore trip can seem to be, it is still full of surprises:

Sharath was different
  • Visibly more relaxed and more energetic, even though he was working almost 8 hours straight the shala’s peak.  He joked a lot during class too.  When I went to see him to say good-bye, I told him I wished I understood Kanada ... because if he was so funny in English, he must be absolutely hilarious in his native tongue.
  • Giving out more poses that I have ever seen.  He added 3rd series poses to Led Intermediate class, which had never been done before. 
  • Very engaging during conference.  I’ve seen Sharath in conference when it’s obvious he didn’t want to be there.  This year, he kept wanting to talk.  He spoke a lot from the heart, sharing his own experiences from his practice.  That plus his obvious dedication to teaching us really touched me.

Injury is the greatest teacher
This trip was tough because of my shoulder.  You’re forced to deal with discomfort and it’s a struggle to keep going.  The obvious solution is Rest but for me, practice helped.  It wasn’t easy to maintain a pace & intensity that doesn’t make the injury worse.  I have never skipped class but I skipped the last few Led Primary classes because it was too much on my shoulder.  I  did a modified home practice instead (I’m not sure if the one where I fell asleep on my mat twice before giving up counts as a practice though).  You also have to be fully present in every movement you make (a split second of unawareness and you can go over the fine line of good versus bad pain).  Mysore is most conducive for this because you’re largely left on your own anyway.  Sharath creates an environment for you to go deeper into your own practice, which is where truly learning happens.    

New hangout
I wrote a post a few years ago about a great local breakfast place (where people stand-up to eat).  It moved to a sit-down location and was referred to the old stand-up.  In typical confusing Indian evolution, they opened a new stand-up branch not far from its old stand-up location.  The food is great and since we are lazy yoga bums, we always park ourselves across the road on a staircase.  As the stairs are not very clean, we nicknamed the place the Dusty Bottoms CafĂ©.

More expensive coconuts
After many years, the price of coconuts have now increased by 2 rupees to 12 (roughly s$0.32)

Cold to Hot
Mysore experienced its coldest winter in over 50 years (12 degrees one night if I’m not wrong).  I also experienced the beginning of the hot season; very dry (17% humidity) and intense.  I left at the end of February .. the heat builds up to its peak in May (I can’t imagine how bad it gets).

Digital Pirates
Dealing in pirated movies and tv series.  With highspeed downloads and lots of time on our hands,  watching movies and tv series which is a great past-time.  I was watching an average of a movie + 2 episodes of a tv series in a day … love it!  It become common for people waiting in front of the shala gates every morning to exchange thumb/hard drives.  I felt like a drug dealer when people asked to get stuff from me.

Chai no more?
I never thought I’d say this … but me (the ultimate chai lover) started to find the milk in the local chai way too rich! That plus ‘’I’m over Indian spices, all I want is a grilled cheese&tomato sandwich” in my 3rd week in Mysore is a disturbing incident for my long-term Mysore future.

I became a hermit, especially towards the end of my trip.  I got very selective about who I went out to meet and how long I spent outside. I preferred to sit at home by myself and watch a movie.  Was I homesick, bored? With too much time on my hands, I started to analyse Mysore friendships.  They are special because there is no need to explain our weird ashtangi lifestyle ie why our lives revolve around our practice (we sleep early, we don’t eat / drink too much too late etc).  People who come to Mysore are very different and come from multi-cultural backgrounds and varying social hierarchies.  As such, it is sometimes difficult to connect and to grasp underlying values and beliefs.  Mysore becomes a refuge from reality with some people running away from their real lives.  So, many friendships may not go very deep.  I started to miss my friends from home … whose character and values I know so well.  That’s when I knew it was time to go home.  As much as I treasured each morning in the shala, for the first time, I was counting down the days to leaving Mysore
This is the most eye-opening Mysore experience I have had to date and the most ‘’negative’’ one.  Having said that, I have already planned to return, September – December 2012.  I guess that only emphasises why Mysore is so important to me … it’s for the Practice.