On taking time out as a parent

Time becomes a luxury once you become a parent and when you have a couple of little beings who depend on you 24/7. Sometimes it's not about the pockets of time available in between family, work, and life, but the actual mind-space available to day dream and just be. Have a read at this article from The Atlantic, it refers to kids, but very much applicable to adults too.

Last year, EB and I decided that we'll each take time out (separately) to go on a solo holiday each year, relieved from all parental duties for a couple of days. Kind of like an 'annual leave' for parents as aptly put by one of my friends. Where time and resources allow, this has been largely beneficial. 4-5 days seems to be the optimal time for a quick break, long enough to disconnect and reconnect, yet short enough to not let too much guilt seep in.

But even more important (and realistic) is to figure out how to carve time out on a daily basis for self-care. I have an ideal routine of morning meditation/yoga and writing in my journal, but that falls through half the time. It's hard to make it work, but it shouldn't be. Other little things such as making a cup of tea, losing yourself in a good book, watching the clouds, going for a run, enjoying the breeze on a bike ride, and strangely, a rather frivolous activity such as spending time to properly moisturise do wonder. 

I love this quote "You can't pour from an empty cup" - there's much truth to it and serves as a good reminder. Read more about parenting and self-care here if you're interested. 

City Guide: Bergen

Bergen is the hometown of Kings of Convenience, and was the only reason why I picked that city to visit during my maiden European trip almost 10 years ago. Still one of my favourite singer-songwriter bands, I love the simplicity of their music and their set-up - listening to them is good for the soul. Watching them performed live when they came to Singapore a couple of years back, was a fan girl dream come true. 

It is not hard to envision where their inspiration come from having witnessed the beauty of their city and country, and in fact, that could probably be said of some of the music that came out of Nordics like Sigur Ros, with sounds that instantly transport you to somewhere idyllic. 


Situated on the southwestern coast of Norway, Bergen is surrounded by beautiful mountains, lakes and sea, and used to be the Norwegian capital, until 1299. 

“Bergen is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, laid out across harbours and hillsides. It’s also rich in history and architecture, especially in the quayside Bryggen district. But this is a city that is anything but stuck in the past with a dynamic cultural life, great restaurants and nightlife”
— Lonely Planet

Walking is the best way to explore the city of Bergen. You will need a good pair of shoes to deal with the cobble-stoned streets, and possibly arm yourself with a brolly in case it rains - which happens very often. Soak in the scenery from the hilltops and peek at the secret gardens. Most of the wooden houses are gorgeous, and often decorated with flowers, a lot of flowers. Spend a day out at sea and try out deep sea fishing, where it goes as deep as 120-meters and takes a good 5-min to reel a fish in. Do an easy trek up Mount Floyen to get a nice view of Bergen. Who knows, you might spot Eirik from Kings of Convenience (as I did, really! I almost died.). Settle at a cafe for a drink or coffee over board games and good music. Check out some of the small live music venues and get a taste of the local music scene. Food-wise, Norway is an expensive country to eat out. Check out the local grocery stores - always a good idea. Fresh market stands offer fresh open sandwiches (shrimps, smoked salmon), mussels, fishcakes. Lots of seafood. Drink Hansa, the local brewery, and most importantly, drink the tap water, it's one of the best I've had. 

And to stay. The one recommendation I have, is Skuteviken Guesthouse, which is owned by Solveig and Elvind, who are artists by profession and set this up a few years ago. Located just 5-10min walk away from city centre and just across the pier, it has a great views of the neighbouring houses on a hill, as well as a gorgeous view of the horizon. It’s a small charming guesthouse on a narrow cobble-stoned street, with just 5 small apartments, each individually designed by Solveig and Elvind, and decorated with some of their own artwork. All the apartments were extremely clean and even have kitchenettes with utensils and some complimentary dry goods such as tea, coffee, pasta, which came in really handy. Great apartment, great location. Great owners too, who were more than happy to have conversations around the Norwegian culture, the Bergen-Oslo ‘rivalry’, music, life in Bergen. We ended up checking out some local music at this local bar called Logen (it's still around!) together - local musicians get together every Monday night for performances. A fantastic spot to stay in all in all.

Address: Skutevikens Smalgang 11, 5032 Bergen, Norway
Phone: +47 934 67 163
Website: http://www.skutevikenguesthouse.com/englishindex.htm

Destination Guide: Mount Rinjani

Climbing Mount Rinjani in Lombok

Lombok is a great destination to visit for both the beach and the mountain. Mount Rinjani, Indonesia's second highest, peaks at 3726m, and in 2013, we hiked up and I'd recommend it to anyone (with reasonable level of fitness) who is up for a little adventure. As I looked through the photo archives, I've put together some travel notes from the last 2 visits to this beautiful island getaway, and a great alternative to Bali. 


There are now direct flights from Singapore to Lombok, or if you are going via Bali, just take a speedboat which takes about 2+ hours. The trekking company (more of that below) can usually arrange for a pick up if you arrange ahead of time. Consider going mid-year for better weather - we went in August and were lucky enough to not have any rain at all (and beautiful clear weather) during all 3 days of the climb. 


Farosh who owns a trekking company called Lombok Vertical* had been our go-to guy to help organise the trek. While he might not always be available to lead the trek, the guides and porters in his team are generally reliable, patient and trustworthy (at least the ones we had), and we have recommended him to a few friends ever since. 

*If you google Lombok Vertical, you'll see this appearing - https://lombokvertical.wordpress.com/. Note that this is not the same one as the link above.  


Most trekkers start from either Senaru (forest first) or Sembalun (flatlands first). For our 4D3N trek, we started at Senaru. The complete itinerary is available on his website. The trek takes us through the foirest, to the lake and the crater rim, up to the summit and then descend via a long flat-ish walk through to Sembalun. Along the way, witnessing the sunset over Bali and seeing Mt. Agung in the distance (first picture below), hot springs, camping overnight near the crater rim (4th picture), the steep and gruelling route to the summit, rising above the clouds, and summiting at sunrise. Pity about the amount of garbage on the mountain, and as you can see from the picture below, the summit itself gets really crowded, but doesn't really take away the experience of reaching the top.


Consider extending for a couple of days to enjoy beach life in Lombok. Qunci Villa is rather popular, but Jeeva Klui is my personal favourite, it is smaller and with excellent food. Day trips to Gili Islands can easily be arranged, and don't forget to check out lunch options on the smaller Gili Islands as well - we were at this place called Paradiso on Gili Air, and while the food was nothing to rave about as far as I remember, it had a pretty good chilled vibe for a long lunch by the shore. Renting a motorbike and zipping through the villages, and chancing upon local rustic restaurants was very memorable and gives a more intimate feel for the island than just commuting in a car/van. 

So it's been 4 years (as of 2017) since I last visited and I'd love to visit again in the near future, so if you've got any tips and suggestions, please let me know!

#nomoremondays | Conversations with Akshaya Kamat

Akshaya Kamat
Content & Insights Lead, Mediacom

My first few encounters with Akshaya were mostly about numbers and data, and research studies for the brands that we jointly worked on. It wasn’t till much later in our working relationship did we connect a bit more at a personal level, and over our love for Matter pants. At work, she has an unfaltering calm and zen presence. Beneath her researcher hat, I learnt that there’s an aspiring writer, an avid hiker, and a very free spirited soul. Once told by an acquaintance that the advertising industry might not be so suitable for her because "people there drink a lot", it might be hard to believe that these days,  it won't come as a surprise if the last (wo)man standing at a party is her. 

Over coffee one weekend, at Plain Vanilla bakery in Tiong Bahru, we sat down for a chat about career, aspirations and life.

Nicole: You currently work as a Content & Insights lead at a media agency. How did you end up in this field?
Akshaya: I studied math, and I also did my MBA. I knew I wanted to get into advertising. Somehow, anything to do with advertising just appealed a bit more to me. My first job was with TNS in Madras (Chennai). Because of my math background, I’d normally just go into quantitative research but because my boss back then believed that we should have exposure to both qualitative and quantitative research, I ended up doing both. 

N: It’s been 10 years or so?
A: 12 years to be exact. And about 7 years ago, I moved to Singapore.

N: Can you share a bit more about your research work and what you enjoy about it?
A: I've worked on everything from jewellery to spice powder, and generally enjoy the whole concept of qualitative research and speaking with people. If we were working on a product like a toilet cleaner, we would have to go and see how people clean their toilets. It requires a lot of intimate understanding.

I'm from the South (of India), but I also knew Hindi, which meant that I could be part of qualitative studies that required me to know multiple languages. This was really interesting to me because I like understanding different cultures and ways of life. It was amazing for me to go into parts of rural India and get that perspective, especially in a country as diverse as mine - and gain insights into why do people behave the way they do, and what they react to. In my current role, I like the whole process of putting out points of view or developing something new.

N: Outside of work, what are you passionate about? 
A: Writing. And stuff I can do with my hand, such as block printing. I like natural fabrics and patterns, and learning about different textile techniques. But normally it’s writing. Yoga for sure. Food - both cooking and eating. When I started living on my own, my ambition was that if I want to eat something, I should be able to cook it. I find that quite therapeutic. 

N: Do you remember the last time you lost track of time?
A: It’s normally if I’m writing something or reading a crime novel. The last time I was writing, it was poetry which I’d never done before, as part of a workshop, and the final feedback I got was that I sounded very angry. The instructor said that I have a lot of anger in me, which I thought was interesting because I had always assumed it was something slightly less aggressive, like passion. It was a workshop over a couple of weekends, they give you cues and you can write whatever you were feeling strongly about.


"Writing poetry is a good way to channel anger (or frustration) constructively."


N: Perhaps you were stressed at work that week? 
A: (Laughs) Ya, of which went into the writing. But I realised there were unresolved issues (not work haha) and writing poetry is a good way to channel anger (or frustration) constructively. I did feel lighter after it. 

N: When did you start learning poetry writing?
A: I didn’t learn, I think I just have it in me (laughs). I can’t rhyme or anything, but I think the idea of having to be more disciplined than prose makes you really boil down what you are feeling to the essence of it. Every first Monday, at BluJazz, they have like a speakeasy where everyone does spoken word. I went for those and I was amazed by it, and realised there’s a lot of support for it. It was very inspiring how brave some people are. Honestly I’ve only started writing this about 2 years ago and not very frequently. But I do enjoy it - the disciplined thinking especially.

N: Disciplined thinking?
A: Yes. When you have to think about the root cause of why you are writing something that you feel so strongly about, you sometimes realise that you may be annoyed with something (or someone...) completely different from what you assumed when you started.

N: So have you published any of your works online? 
A: I’ve been too scared to publish my work, and to put it out, and know what people will think. But I have recently set up a website. Not publishing the poetry bits (yet). I think it can get very specific and personal sometimes, because it’s something you’re trying to get off your chest. My website will mostly be about food and mountains. Not of food and restaurant reviews (I don’t really understand the end point to that), but of food and how it impacts a culture (hopefully). The website is live, but it isn’t ready for public launch.

"I don’t know if its a geek fest for me or whether it’s something people are interested in. That’s interesting to me. Not sure who would pay me for it though."

N: So let’s say you could choose do one thing all day long, and get paid for it. What would that be?
A: Difficult to choose one. Like you know, I’d like to write, and get paid for it. I like the whole concept of the history of food, where it came from, and understanding traditional dishes that's makes up part of a culture. Like Singapore, there are so many foreign influences that came from it being part of the various trade routes. Similar to the part of India that I came from. I don’t know if its a geek fest for me or whether it’s something people are interested in. That’s interesting to me. Not sure who would pay me for it though. 

N: You’re also an avid hiker. Tell us more about it. I have good memories of our conversations on hiking. 
A: It surprises a lot of people. I don’t look like an athlete. I like how mountains make me feel so tiny. It started when I was working at Madras (Chennai). One of my colleagues who used to run ultra marathons asked me to go with her on a trek. My first trek was in the Ghats of Western India. We did the route that was along an abandoned railway track. We thought it was abandoned but they had actually started test runs. When we were crossing the bridges over the gorges, there was a possibility of a train coming behind us. We had to run across these and I am terrified of heights. I think that adrenaline rush is something that’s never left me. 

Years later, she suggested we go to the Himalayas, and we went to Roopkund. It was good fun and maybe the most difficult thing i have done physically. To date, we still try to incorporate trekking into our trips. We realised we couldn’t go to the Himalayas every year like we wanted to if we were to see other parts of the world so now we try and do a trek, even a short one, wherever we go. 

Nicole: What are your fears in life, if any?
A: That I am not doing enough to leave a mark or make a difference.


"My dad’s advice on following a creative career was that you have to be superlatively brilliant to earn a living from it. If you are a mediocre artist, you will definitely not put food on the table but if you are a mediocre engineer (for example), you will put some food on the table."


Nicole: Finally, do you believe in merging passion with your career?
A: I would like to but I’m not sure if it’s sustainable, and I haven’t tried it yet. It’s only now that I have made a focused effort on putting my passion of writing out there because if I don’t put it out, then I won’t get any kind of feedback and I won’t know how good I am, or not. My dad’s advice on following a creative career was that you have to be superlatively brilliant to earn a living from it. If you are a mediocre artist, you will definitely not put food on the table but if you are a mediocre engineer (for example), you will put some food on the table. So the website will be a test of that. Besides I also like work quite a lot - not sure if I actually do want to give it up completely.

Thanks for your time Akshaya, it was great to co-create something with you again.