Massage Siantar style


Siantar is the last stop of our 5 day trip. We decided to chill out a little instead of the embarking on a whirlwind binging our hosts had planned for us. Since our hotel is situated next to two massage ‘spas’, it provided the perfect activity for a lazy afternoon.

Despite the fact that we pre-booked the appointment an hour before, all the five to six masseurs were lounging and napping on the foot reflexology couch and sofas, and woke up in a daze as three of us entered.

We were ushered on to three chairs to sit for foot washing. The masseurs, young ladies in their twenties, gathered into a room and we can hear noisy chattering. Some flitted past us to the front counter and then flitted back. We waited, wondering what’s going on. Chattering went on in the room. After fifteen minutes, we decided to call out to them. Two ladies quickly came out with basins, dripping remnants water droplets on the tiled floor. We were given a basin of green water to soak our feet and the ladies disappeared for next 10minutes. I wondered aloud if our 1.5 hour spa had started. My friend called out again before service really began.

My husband and I were put in one room and my friend another. My masseur provided us with a pair of shorts each as we removed our tops. I was covered in a towel and she started with my foot, dousing me with liberal amount of herbal oil. I hate foot reflexology. It was so painful I kept flinching and cringing, signalling for her to lighten up. She’s oblivious of my discomfort, as she chatted with my husband’s masseur, or else she must have felt my muscles needed the hard knead. She spent 60 tortuous minutes on my legs before she requested I turn to my tummy and started on my arms and back.

At the end of my session, which for me ended with a face and head massage. My friend who was in another room, had a newbie who used cream on her instead of herbal oil, disappeared halfway, and apparently didn’t know what she was doing,

At the end, my husband was the most satisfied with his massage, which is a steal at rp125000. For us, cheap massages are cheap thrills – you may or may not get your desired massage.

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Buzzing in Berastagi


Berastagi is a highland resort town three hours drive from Medan, capital of Sumatra. Berastagi is a popular holiday getaway for the locals, with it’s cool climate all year round and hot springs.

We stayed in Sinabung Hill Resort. The two storey hotel building is surrounded by lush ground with beautiful landscape of colourful fauna, a pool (not sure if it’s heated), a restaurant where we had breakfast buffet. I love the tree house where I conducted a morning yoga session for my companions (ahem!). Can you imagine yoga in a tree house?

Because we were hosted by my ex-colleague Tjin and her brother, Siong, it was easy for us to move around in their Toyota Inova MPV in Berastagi. We visited the local market for fruits to buy mangoesteens, passion fruits, and local special fruit terong belanda (Dutch eggplant) etc, which is usually blended with passion fruit for juice, a refreshing tarty drink filled with vitamins.

At the market, horses milled around, waiting to take tourists for a city tour.

Not far away, visit a view point to get see perfect conical shaped Sinabung Volcano on one side and Sibayak on the other, if weather permits. The mist and clouds in the late afternoon make capturing the volcanoes quite challenging, veiling them as suddenly as they appear.

In the evening, we went to soak in a hotspring. Facility is very basic there, with gender separated open shower rooms. Unlike onsen in Japan where we soak naked, here we soaked in tee-shirts and tights. The mineral rich water brightens complexion and smoothens skin. My face actually looked fairer after the soak.

We buzzed out of Berastagi early next morning for our destination – Lake Toba. Along the way, we stopped by the highest waterfall in Indonesia (so claimed Tjin). Sipisopiso sprouts out of a hole in the middle of a mountain, gushing large amount of water like a drainage pipe after a rain. We hiked an hour down to the base, but the pool was too rough for a soak.

Berastagi was a brief stop for us but I think it makes a wonderful short getaway for Singaporeans who are tired of Genting or Cameron Highlands yet still want a cool and cheap vacation.

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The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society -Movie Review


This movie was highly recommended by a few members of  my book club, and I’m glad I caught it before the screening ends, which might be soon, seeing that’s it’s shown only in one cinema in town. I guess it’s difficult for such literary film to compete with The Avengers and other more popular movies.

I really enjoyed it. I pulled my husband along and I’m glad he said he enjoyed the cinematography – lush green British countryside against the backdrop of high cliffs and crushing waves. I’m not sure if he likes the story though. Like him,  I would love to visit Guernsey Island, located in the British channel.

The movie is set during the German occupation of Guernsey Island in 1941. A group of friends had a gathering and broke curfew, but was saved because in a panic, they claimed they were members of a book club, a literary society…the potato peel pie was added in by the drunk postmaster. And so, to keep up with the pretense, the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was formed, meeting every Friday night, in the presence of a German soldier, to discuss books.

Fast forward to 1947. Writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from pig farmer Dawsey, who finds a book belonging to her. Intrigued by the Society’s history, Juliet decides to travel to Guernsey Island to learn more, hoping to write a story about the society for the London Times. Just before she boards the ferry, she receives a marriage proposal from wealthy American Mark.

At the island, she finds herself bonding with the members of the society like family, but there’s a secret that no one’s talking about – the disappearance of member Elizabeth. She also falls in love with the dashing Dawsey.

The movie flits back and forth as the members recall the horrors of the occupation, and the various events that lead to Elizabeth’s arrest, and her daughter, Kit, with a German soldier.

But the real question is, who would Juliet choose? Mark, the wealthy American who wants to bring her to New York, or Dawsey, the pig farmer from Guernsey Island?

The movie has such a lovely and simple storyline (albeit predictable) that it spurs me to want to write a similar story like this too.

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1984 By George Orwell- The book, the talk and the play


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As part of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), there was a series of events celebrating 1984 – a book club and a lecture hosted by local poet Dr Gwee Li Sui and a play produced by UK theatrical innovators Headlong along with Nottingham Playhouse and the Almeida Theatre.

I’ve never read 1984, despite being recommended by Aaron, my youngest son when he read it while in secondary school. I dislike dystopia novels. But I am now trying to read widely so as to improve my writing and the book club provides an excellent platform to discuss the book. (I love book clubs.)

This blog is not meant to be a review of the book.  I get the idea there is some insinuation in relation to Singapore, with the Big Brother is watching you (through a telescreen) and the authoritative regime portrayed in the story, which I felt was ridiculous. I thought the book reminded me more of North Korea, based on the few books on North Korea which I have read. In the book club discussion, Dr Gwee asked a few interesting questions about the role of government and media, and how much power the media as an instrument to shape society by shaping people’s mind and people’s reality. Dr Gwee also pointed out that while the people in the book live in fear of constantly being watched, we are ironically now happily letting people watch us through social media, as well as approving surveillance cameras, in the threat of security and terrorism.

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Following the book reading and discussion, I took Aaron to the play, which was not a direct adaptation as I had imagined, so I had some confusion with the repetitive scenes (relating to doublethink). Jarring stoke lightings and loud exploding sounds also made the experience of watching the play quite different from the hush-hush secretive climate I associate with the story. Julia was also much prettier in the play, and was dressed in a crisp white shirt and black skirt with a ponytail, like how a young secretary-mistress to the boss would wear, instead of the party’s overalls with all trace of femininity erased, as depicted in the book.

I am glad at last I got to read the book. I won’t be so ignorant though when the book is discussed, although the book does say, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.

 

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Be with You – Korean Movie


I miss my Korean Dramas on cable but I am adamant I’m not going to be hooked again. So to satisfy my craving, I reward myself by watching Korean movies, and Be With You, starring my favourite actor Soh Ji-Sub, came at a right moment, just after I submitted my thesis.

Spoiler alert!!

Really, you might ask, what’s there to spoil about romantic movies. I agree, not very much, except no, there is no happy ending to this one. But still, there is a twist in this movie which if you would rather not know, stop reading here and go watch if you are a fan of Soh. Otherwise, the story is rather unbelievable not because of the plot, but because of the certainty that the couple, Woo Jin and Soo Ah, believe in the absurdity of her ever returning from the dead one rainy day during the rainy season, especially when she concocted the story in a storybook she made for their son, Ji Ho.

Woo Jin is a widower who loses his wife Soo Ah to an illness. He struggles with a full-time job in a swimming pool and looking after Ji Ho. Ji Ho thinks his mother dies giving birth to him, and looks forward to meeting her again. Thus he yearns for the rainy season. When the season finally arrives, he rushes to the deserted train station to wait for her. They find her in a tunnel, disorientated and suffering from amnesia. Soo Ah can’t remember her husband and son. Thus, both Soo Ah and the audience get flashbacks on how their romance began in high school from Woo Jin. She falls in love with both, until she learns the truth about herself in a diary she finds.

At the end of the movie, we learn that she was knocked down by a car and was in a coma when she was 26 years old. This was after Woo Jin broke off their relationship when he discovered that he was suffering from a sickness which rendered his health dangerous whenever he exerts physically. Not wanting to be a burden, he breaks off with her.

When she awakens from the coma and finds herself in a tunnel with her family, seven years have passed and she is told by them she has a husband and a son. She thus has this short window period to spend with both Woo Jin and Ji Ho, before she returns and wakes up to back when she is 26 years old, with the choice of either going back to Woo Jin and knowing she’ll die at 32 years old, or to change her fate and perhaps live until a ripe old age. And so upon waking up from her coma, she rushes to back to Woo Jin, marries him and gives birth to Ji Ho and dies as scripted in her comatose dream. (How can people ever trust the reality of their dreams?)

I know this is just a story, but I wonder, what exactly is in her mind as she walks away from her family in the tunnel, towards an unknown destination which she coined Cloudland, supposedly in heaven? Is she not afraid? How certain is she that she’ll get back to waking up in the hospital? Why not take the chance and continue living with her family and see what happens? After all, no one knows right?

Just my thoughts as I left the cinema.

I like Soh Ji Sub and he didn’t disappoint. But Son Ye-Jin can be quite boring despite her pretty face. I was amused to find a short cameo by Gong Hyo Jin, Soh’s leading lady in Master of the Sun, whose appearance over-shadows Son’s acting as she’s just so cute. In case you wonder, yes, there is a tissue moment when Ji Ho is on stage in a school concert, and changes his script to promise his mother in the audience that he’ll take care of his father when she leaves them. Adorable too is his little curly-haired friend, who explains to Ji Ho matter-of-factly that she dislike rainy days as her hair curls too much.

 

 

 

 

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Roots


When I was in primary three, I needed to choose an extra-curriculum activity (ECA). I was a follower from young, never certain of what I wanted in life. This was probably the result of growing up in the shadow of five aunts who were more like sisters than aunts. My class monitor, YF, whom now as I recall, I treated like a big brother, suggested we join the new gardening club, which was lead by our form teacher. He was mature as a child and a top student. I would look to him for approval and he would nod and give me a thumb’s up after I’d read an essay aloud in class. Anyway, because we all liked our form teacher, as she had a motherly face and kind disposition, unlike the arts and crafts teacher who yelled and scolded during every class, most of the pupils in my class 3D ended up in the gardening club.

The gardening activity wasn’t very exciting. We spent two hours every Saturday squatting in the morning sun, weeding the thorny mimosa off the cow grass. I thought it was a waste to pull out the mimosas, whose leaves close on contact, and with its pretty pink feathery flowers. But no, we were given pliers to pull the roots out, which clung stubbornly to the earth. ‘斬草不除根 春風吹又生,’ said Chen Lao Shi. (If we don’t remove the roots, the weeds will grow again with the spring wind, which is a metaphor to cure a bad habit, or a disease, one must remove the roots.)

At home, I witnessed our Malaysian helper, Ah Eng, pulling fistfuls of long grass from our carpet-grass turf. Why not just cut the grass, I asked her. She said the grass she pulled were not from the same carpet grass, but were weeds. She needed to pull out the roots to prevent them from spreading. I squatted down next to her and started pulling too.

I’ve not stopped pulling weeds since then, as I am blessed to own landed houses with gardens since I bought my own house. I protect my turfs from weed infestation like the telescreen from novel 1984, constantly watching out and bending down to pull out the weeds whenever I see one – on my Mother’s garden, my own, and even on the outside common public turf belonging to LTA. I squatted while heavily pregnant, prompting my next door neighbour Auntie Rose to tell me I’d have an easy time given birth. She was right. The births of my three sons were a breeze with all that squat-training – with no epidural or painkillers. When I worked full time, I’d weed deep into the night, with the garden spotlight on. I remember while on a long vacation in the USA, I looked enviously at a lady sitting on a stool in front of a nineteen-century ‘Gone with the Wind’ type historical mansion, weeding serenely, and wished I could join her. When I see turfs of carpet grass with weeds, my fingers itch.

My weeding took a hiatus when I started my Master’s program, and I’d groan inwardly whenever I see weeds sprouting faster than the time I can afford to spend on them. Besides, eye-sight and bad knees were preventing me from squatting longer than usual. I promised I’ll get back to it and clear my garden of weeds once my program is over.

I’ve been diligently weeding daily (except when it rained), almost meditatively, as I dig and pull for the past two weeks. I sit on a stool now, and has a teaspoon spade to help me dig out the roots, with my teacher’s gardening mantra echoing in my head throughout: pull out the roots. I don’t know which is more torturing to my body, practising handstand conditioning, or bending over on my hunches pulling weeds for two solid hours. As I exit my squat, straightening my stiff back and creaky knees very slowly, I have a sense of satisfaction I can’t describe.

My mother’s friend once visited and asked how I kept the carpet grass so neat. I told her, the hard way, on your hunches and weed. Is it no surprise that my next door neighbours (ex and current) all tiled up their turfs? Why not use a weedkiller? I used to buy them from Far East Nursery, imported from Australia and very expensive, but only effective in clearing the weeds with netted veins or reticulated veins but not the other grasses with parallel veins (remember your primary school Science?) Weedkiller helps in clearing the fragile penny-worts which thrived in the wet and shady part of my garden, except my nursery stopped selling it for a few years now, probably due to the high price and low demand.

Most people don’t notice the effort I put into my turf, except for a friend, Lung, from KL (of course, probably grew up in a landed house there.) Whenever he visited, either in my previous house or my current house, he would remark with admiration, wow, carpet grass.

My part-time cleaners from PRC once enquired, as she scrubbed my garage while I weeded, what I was doing. Weeding, clearing the stray grass, I explained when she continued to stare blankly. But why? she persisted. My explanation probably sounded stupid to her, coming from a village with lush vegetation. ‘So it’ll look nice and neat.’

She probably thinks it’s a futile effort and I agree. After an afternoon shower, I’ll see a sprinkling of weeds sprouting here and there. But this is the only activity I persevere on, having given up on many others. (Darn, just reminded myself on that carpet I knotted halfway which I promised myself to complete.) After all, I’ve been doing it since I was nine. But I’m smarter now. In areas where the grass struggles due to lack of sun, I turned them into flower beds, Japanese rock garden with fountains (as in Mom’s house).

Yup, this essay was running through my mind earlier as I weeded and now I have to write it down. I wished a good story would come up someday soon.

(Grammarly keeps highlighting the word weed to need. Just goes to show how this word is rarely used as a verb.)

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Yoga PT 1


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There’s a man in my yoga class who grunts and groans aloud with each stretch, filling the otherwise quiet class with his presence. I don’t know how he looks like as he’s often at the other end. He reminds me of what my Aunt Gracie used to comment about a man’s groan during workout at a NUSS gym a long time ago: he makes more noise than when I gave birth. I had laughed so hard because this was so true. The births of my three sons were quiet affairs. The reason I brought this up was, I was the one groaning and moaning during my PT today.

My PT started well initially. The yoga wheel which I was supposed to grab with both hands from the top showed how tight I was, despite a warm-up session of balance class prior to the PT. My trainer, who we call Master, decided I needed to be stretched by him. I thought it was almost like a Thai massage, with he opening my shoulders physically with his arms, hand and foot as I sit in anchor pose in front of him. Next, while I lay in a threading position, he gave me a physical twist. I commented to him, this is like physiotherapy. He agreed and said I was very tight at my shoulders and upperback. I thought to myself, albeit prematurely, I like this kind of PT.

Then he had me in a puppy pose, and started applying pressure on my shoulders and back. I felt myself sinking and was really pleased, although there was some discomfort. Breathe, he reminded me. I breathed, expecting to come out soon, but was held for longer than expected. As I exited the pose, I couldn’t help as a moan escaped my lips.

Next, I was told to go into a low lunge with one knee bent against a wall and another on a block. I was to bend backwards while keeping my hips low, with both hands pushing on my front knee to facilitate the back bend. It was a torture to stay there. Instead of exiting after a long while, I was told to lift one hand to reach for the wall, and then both hands.

‘Why so long?’ I groaned.

‘You need these slow, long stretches. Trust me. Now change side. ‘

I sneaked a peek at the clock. Almost time.

‘Can I have savasana?’

‘I want you to get your money’s worth. Get into frog.’

I guess there’s no savanna.

After frog, it was split. I love how he adjusted and held on to square my hips while I did a right front split, as my right hamstring is stiffer than my left. I had a perfect split!

That’s the reason why I paid for a PT, to get the personal attention I lacked in a class to help me improve.

I know Master thinks me impatient, as I can’t be still for long and kept asking him, how long more, like how a child is on a long car trip. I couldn’t help it. There was no count down like in a class.

He said the first session is a gentle one. He told me he’s seen my poses and knows what I want and what I should work on for improvement.

I am so looking forward to my next PT. Like childbirth, you forget the pain and emerge with a kind of euphoria immediately after.

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