Cheap Berries

MARKETS.

I love markets.

In this case, its one that has been around since 1014…or probably even earlier.

Fresh food and produce, all colourful and all looking delicious and nutritious.

***

Walking through Borough market was painful as well as exciting. All the foodstuff that comes fresh and cheap here (1 POUND FOR A BOX. A BOX OF STRAWBERRIES. TMD. HAVE YOU SEEN HOW MUCH A BOX OF STRAWBERRIES COST IN COLD STORAGE??), we couldn’t buy home to cook with- much less have the time to enjoy exploring the ingredients this part of the world had to offer.

Andand a scene you don’t get to see in Singaporean markets: cakes and pastry stalls. Freshly baked tarts. Ahhhhhhhhh.

Expensive by our standards lah, but everything looked so good.

Our first stop was a stall named Le Marché du Quartier selling Duck Confit wraps. Sizzling on the huge hot plate/table (think Teppanyaki) was shredded duck meat coated with a sheen of oil, just enough to make it go crispy. The meat at the bottom crackled and popped as the guy behind the counter tended to the customer in front of us.

14 SGD (i think) for a wrap almost as big as my arm. For one person, this is a meal on its own.

I’d daresay its one of the best wraps I’ve ever eaten. If you love duck, this is it.

While we took turns ravishing the poor wrap, we entered the section of the market that sold ready-to-eat food. Food stalls lined the walls and the crowd was machiam peak period at a Pasar Malam.

In the middle of the chaos that are humans, I spot a stall selling Singaporean dishes. One of which was laksa. #proudSGmoment

Moving on, our second snack of the day was also a wiener.

SAUSAGE WITH SAUERKRAUT. The shredded pickled cabbage is the answer to the jelat-ness* you’d get from eating a hotdog with only ketchup and/or chilli sauce (mustard’s not common in SG). It kept everything light despite the meatiness from the sausage. But since sauerkraut is probably hard to come by in SG, our next best thing is kimchi from the Korean section in supermarkets.

Close enough.

Someone try it and let me know HAHA.

After the meat fest, I caved and bought a bubble-tea sized cup of uber-red cherries. Ahh, dessert.

As we popped cherries (heh) into our tummies, the strong aroma that is coffee wafted across the street to us.

‘Ooooh, that smells really good.’

YJ nods.

Having just exited my full-time internship where a daily cup of teh C siew dai* has become a necessity more than a habit, I craved caffeine at that very moment. Europe does their coffee differently. Condensed milk is unheard of. What more evaporated milk.

But.

I’m a tad jet-lagged with 2-plus weeks of non-stop activities ahead of me.

So I crossed the street and got in the queue.

Almost every drink on the menu had the term ‘espresso’ in it.

They had a latte but my adventurous spirit screamed, ‘TRY SOMETHING ELSE LAH.’

Thus, I got an espresso macchiato.

Simply because, uncultured me thought that macchiato was like Starbuck’s caramel macchiato with the pretty separation of milk and coffee. Or like Koi’s Oolong macchiato. So probably a normal-sized cup of milk with a pretty layer of espresso on it.

I hated myself when the lady passed me an espresso-sized paper cup with a pretty milk heart on it.

Oh no.

It’s a cup of espresso with milk floating on the top.

To be fair, the aroma of the coffee was sublime, to the point where I was wishing that I could drink my coffee and tea kosong*. But my sweet tooth struggled and died trying to finish the cup.

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It was a really pretty heart though :3

In desperation, I asked YJ (who is lactose intolerant and sensitive to caffeine) to help with a few sips.

To which he exclaimed, ‘You want me die ah??’

Lattes ftw.

 

*Jelat (Ger-LAHt): the sick/full feeling you get when you’ve had too much mac & cheese

Teh C Siew Dai: tea (teh) with (C)arnation (evaporated milk brand), less sugar (siew dai)

Kosong: Empty or zero; in this context it means no sugar (for beverages)

 

Cheap Tips

I’d strongly recommend foodies to explore the different stores and stalls as they have really high quality and interesting ingredients. There’s stuff like raclette cheese and spices, oysters and local produce that you’ll not find in Asia.

And if your itinerary allows, grab some food/fruits as snacks for the rest of your travels! They’re pretty affordable (especially fruits) and its healthier than chips 🙂

Also, if you’re in the mood for summer cocktails, they’ve got sangrias, proseccos, etc.

But of course, STAY HYDRATED. Please bring water.

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Cultural Exchange

When I bought the souvenir cup that came with decadent butterbeer,

when I bought the enamel pin without so much as a thought,

the exchange rate that exists between the Singapore Dollar and the British Pound hadn’t quite sunk in.

But upon scanning the menu at Kanada-ya, it hit me:

A can of soda costs £2.60.

Ah, standard lah.

Eh wait. No.

It’s x2 in SGD.

Daaaaaaaaaaamn.

Suddenly, the price of every single item on the menu was fancy-cafe expensive. Its like eating and drinking at a beach club on Sentosa island. Think S$7 for a can of Sprite. And that was years ago.

Cultural shock indeed.

Back to dinner.

Kanada-ya is a ramen place reeeeeeeeeeeeeally popular among Singaporean students there, according to YJ and a couple of friends who have returned from the UK.

‘Kanada-ya? YES ITS DAMN NICE.’

‘OH YA THAT PLACE.’

Et cetera.

So naturally, I had high expectations. 2 days in Europe and I was already ready for Asian food. Ramen sounded perfect as London’s winds brushed past my stubbly legs. I immediately regret wearing a dress. Oh, my knees.

‘It’s summer meh?’ I breathed, wishing I could wear my denim jacket as pants, ‘SO COLD.’

‘Awww,’ YJ placed an arm around me, amused that a tow-geh* like him finds the temperature just right while a carrot in denim thinks its winter.

So happy I was when we entered the restaurant and the familiar sight of chopsticks made me feel a tad warmer.

When it comes to ramen, I like to stick to the (rich) basics: a tonkotsu base with some cha-su, black fungus and bamboo shoots. That’s how I determine if a particular ramen place is good. Imagine a simple plate of fried rice. It seems like a basic dish that everyone knows how to make, but it takes a lot of skill and know-how to get it just right. What more for a tonkotsu broth that takes hours.

After debating whether to get the Tonkotsu X or the regular one without the X, I settled for the former since it is exclusive to their London outlets. The only difference in the menu descriptions between the two were the bones used for the base. The regular one used pork bones while the X had pork & chicken.

The soup was rich but not overly flavorful. A pleasantly warm salve for the chills. Perhaps they got my order a lil’ bit wrong as the noodles were too al dente for my liking. Or perhaps, that was soft.

The cha-su slices weren’t as fatty as the ones you’d get in Singapore (I wish I could say Japan, sigh) so there weren’t much ah-omg-it-melts-in-the-mouth moments. The slices did have a slight hint of yuzu which was not mentioned in the menu description (there is a Spicy Yuzu Ramen on the menu, so maybe it was a case of flavour ‘contamination’?), and that boggled my mind. In a good way.

But yea, a good 4/5.

And yes, I just did a food review minus pictures. Here’s one from YJ’s freshman year.

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***

YJ had gotten hold of tickets for The Phantom of the Opera (squeals)! After singing their songs in the choir and watching the movie, I finally get the chance to watch it live.

Heeeeee.

Happy sigh.

Tummies warmed up and a short walk away, Her Majesty’s Theatre shone amidst the bustling city. A year after this trip, I would have found out that the theatre has been around since 1705 (it has gone through several rounds of remodelling to y’know, stay relevant, but daaaang). I’d just sat through one of the most iconic musicals of the 20th century not knowing that I was sitting in a 300-year-old theatre that have seen bucket loads of plays and music (and scandals hehehe).

And then a toy monkey started clinking its cymbals and the chandelier is unveiled and the overture begins. Immediate chills.

Tons of familiar songs, emotions, costume changes and orchestral accompaniment later, it was over.

While I googled the cast and fangirled at the same time, YJ nodded, his eyes distant. A human jam was taking form in the carpeted stairwell. People from the pricier seats brushed shoulders with us paupers students.

Sigh.

The dark atrium revealed the setting sun (it was past 10pm).

‘It’s your first time watching Phantom right? What do you think of it?’

‘It was nice,’ YJ began as we poured out of the theatre and into the night, ‘but Les Mis was better.’

Gasp.


*tow geh – Beansprout in Hokkien

Theatre Works

There are shows happening EVERY DAY. A simple Google search should be able to link you up with several ticketing sites. While I didn’t book the tickets, I came across this. Works for students only though!!

Also, the price range is pretty wide. I’ve seen tickets going as low as £10! But of course, it is fully dependent on which show you’re watching, when and where.

And last tip: I highly recommend watching at least one show. If you are unsure, just go for the classics: Phantom for the music and romance, Les Mis for the atmosphere and a taste of the human spirit, Matilda (quite recent but its a Roald Dahl story!) for the innocence and Wicked for the kind. Haaaaaa.

 

Butterbeer is Magic

The Harry Potter series was the worldwide phenomenon that helped shape our generation.

I grew up reading the (second half of the) book series while pining for the next installment in the film franchise. Classmates and I would exchange Panini sticker packets to complete our Harry Potter sticker books, while saving up our pocket money to purchase more at the convenience stores.

These books also saved me from my mind and served as an escape from reality. Along with so many others, Harry Potter and his world means a whole lot more than mere fantasy novels. It was a reprieve from the harsh and often terrifying realities. The movies provided visuals that let us fully immerse ourselves in that world. Words of the pages and images in the mind now physical, and almost real.

What if MRT track faults happened because someone apparated onto the tracks? 

Maybe kopitiam toilets are portals to the other world.

*Gasp.* Maybe that’s why its dirty. It’s to deter muggles. 

OHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

Back to the grad trip.

After a brief introduction to Pret-a-Manger (pronounced as ‘Pratt-a-muhn-zhay’) and the morning rush hour, we got off the train at Watford Junction railway station.

YJ led me to a bus stop situated in front of a small bus terminal and there stood a man with the Warner Bros. uniform who waved and greeted us.

‘Good Morning! Here for the Warner Bros. studios tour? Do you have your tickets?’

YJ produced the papers while I smiled like an idiot, eagerly anticipating whatever that was to come. Soon, more tourists appeared at the bus stop and the at the air was charged with excitement. Everyone was smiling- no, only the fans (aka majority of the humans there) were smiling. You could clearly tell who was dragged along this tour because they had no choice (my boyfriend lor, but got others also lah).

10 minutes later, a bus fully covered in Harry Potter decals (wheee) arrived and along with it, more excitement.

After a 15 minute drive, we reached the studios and YJ was so psyched about getting good photos for me, I thought, ‘wow he really loves me.’ So he placed us on the road for a selfie. The next minute, I heard someone yelling at us to get off the road.

Woops.

Little did I know. That I would begin to question his love for the rest of the trip. Little did I know. The lengths he would go for a great photo.

#instagrambf

#unwillinginstagramgf

The next 4 hours were filled with awe and awkward photo ops.

Our tour begins with a short film and then we were thrown into The Great Hall.

*squeals*

And then, as if we had stepped into the Room of Requirement, props, paintings and magical items of all sorts grouped in batches, spotting the entirety of the studio. The Gryffindor Common Room just a short walk away from Burrow’s kitchen, a skate away from Hagrid’s hut.

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My favourite ‘room’ would be the Potions classroom.

As I stood by the barricade, I became acutely aware of the late Alan Rickman’s (RIP) costume. While I’d probably dislike Prof. Snape as my teacher, I had this strange feeling that I would still enjoy his classes. After all, potions is the closest thing to my current profession. The stirring, aliquoting, the whole zero-tolerance-for-error kinda thing.

As we slowly moved on to the section of the tour where the drafts for set design and animatronics and prop-making were put in the spotlight, my appreciation for the production crew rose a thousand fold. Every thing we’ve seen: the props, the sets, right down to the words on the Daily Prophet. All the paintings that you would have seen in the films were painted, not printed. How insane is that?

Halfway through the tour, we arrived in the cafeteria where they served Butterbeer.

AHHHHHH.

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Sinful but very good. Very.

When we finally got to the end of the tour, there- I SHALL NOT SPOIL.

But I was so moved. It was truly a bittersweet moment.

“Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”
― J.K. Rowling

And then we emerged into the gift shop.

THEY SELL THE UNIFORM. I wanted to try it on but it was soooooo expensive I decided not to, in case I spoiled it. Wands, candy, badges, scarfs, notebooks. It’s like the Hogwarts school bookshop for students to buy supplies. In the end, I got a Ravenclaw pin badge to commemorate my (first?) visit.

Major kudos to le Bf for bringing me here despite *gasp* not being a fan. And kudos to him for helping me save my money at the gift shop 🙂


Travelling Tips: Magic ain’t gonna get you tickets

ALL TICKETS TO THE STUDIOS HAVE TO BE RESERVED IN ADVANCE.

Peak periods include the summer months (June & July), so that means you have to book them really early. Otherwise, at least 3 months in advance should suffice. Also, if your itinerary is relatively flexible, you can keep checking back for saver deals as some people may cancel their reservations closer to the date!

Good luck my fellow Witches & Wizards! (heee)

 


I know it’s not Thursday but I didn’t want to wait for another week. So here’s a Travel TGIF instead of a Travel Thursday.

Happy Weekends!

The Tube

Oh, the fascination.

It was as if I was the frog that finally got out of the well.

Signage scream, telling me that I’m in London and omyflippingosh the weather. The weather was perfect, a huge change from the 98% humidity and 33 deg C temperature in SG. If people started small talk with me, I would talk about the weather.

The Sun was up and it feels like 5pm but a look at the clock made me do a double-take. It was nearly 9.30pm.

Fascinating.

Le Bf leads me to the Underground station at Terminal 2. The unmistakable Underground sign prompted scenes from BBC’s Sherlock to play in my head. Oyster cards in hand, we waited for the tube. The excitement was back and I was not feverish.

‘I can’t believe I’m hereeeee!’

I squealed, giggled and hopped on the platform. No one stared but my bf. Pardon me, I was excited and delirious.

Everything felt surreal.

Nah, you keep this. It’s yours. But you have to return it to me heh, I borrowed it for you,’ YJ pushed the Oyster Card into my palm.

My brain then proceeded to conjure up a reality that I’m a student returning from the Summer break to start another semester in Imperial College.

You study in London. You have been studying in London. So yes, this is your Oyster card.

This is my Oyster card.

‘Oh and this is your SIM card, got unlimited data across the EU until 15th July.’

And now I’m switching back to my UK number.

Hahahahaahahahahahaaha.

Sigh.

As the train headed towards Central London, YJ and I caught up, as if our Skype calls never happened. Halfway through, my sleepiness started to morph into irritation as he kept on talking.

He pouted.

‘Alrightyyyyy,’ I relented as the tube enters a tunnel lined with bricks, a subtle reminder that these tunnel systems are about 150 years old.

‘The Underground itself is a historical monument. Paddington is the oldest station.’

He knew exactly how to get my attention.

I felt my eyes widen as I drank in the dark red bricks that went past us. These tunnels lived and survived two World Wars! COOL. I mean, not cool about the wars, those were horrid. But cool.

We arrived at our station and it became super apparent that I’ve been taking SG’s transport amenities for granted. YJ took hold of my luggage and started to climb up 2 flights of stairs to the gantry. I just stood there, wondering where the lifts were for situations like these.

Once we were up on the street, I saw London: the black cabs, the red buses and houses. Bigger than our BTOs (Built-to-Order public housing flats). Walao eh so envious can.


Travelling Tips: Public Transport 4 lyfe

It is the most cost-effective way to get around London. There’s the Underground and the public buses. Depending on how long you’ll be in London and your itinerary, you can either get the Oyster Card (Pay as you go) or a Travelcard (think monthly concessions: pay in bulk for unlimited travel within certain zones for a period of time).

The Underground

Here’s a quick quip about how the pricing works:

The whole Underground map is split into zones. Zone 1 is Central London, where most of the tourist spots are. And the zone number increases, the further it is away from Central London, equals to higher fares.

The Tube map can get pretty complicated so I’d suggest planning your itinerary well! It’d save time and hassle.

Bus services

Download the Citymapper app! 😀

YJ used this a lot during our trip. It not only gives you directions, they help plan your route and calculate the fares for it! And they tell you when the next bus is coming. It’s like Google Maps and the SG Buses app made a baby. Plus, you can switch between cities really fast. Cities include Singapore, London, Rome, Paris, Seoul and more!

(I’m not sponsored by the way. LOL I don’t have that much influence.)

A few things to note:

  • You cannot pay by cash, you must have either an Oyster card, Travelcard or any contactless payment card (aka Visa/Mastercard PayWave)
  • pricing for buses are not distance-based. Each time you board the bus, you have to pay £1.50. So if you’re taking the bus for two or ten bus stops, the fare is still £1.50.
  • If you change bus services within the hour of tapping your card, the ride on the second bus service is free.

SIM Cards

I hate how we are so reliant on our smartphones now.

Anyhoo, we got our SIM card deals from here. Again, depending on how long you’ll be in Europe, you can pick a month-long contract that allows you data across all countries in the EU, which is pretty amazing.

However. There aren’t any Three stores located in Heathrow Airport. Many advise getting a SIM card only when you reach Central London. If you can’t wait till then, you can definitely grab a SIM in the airport!

Pause the LDR

Graduation trips are like lubricants. They ease you into whatever comes next.

This time, its adulthood. AKA the rest of your life.

So, HUGE GRAD TRIP.

3 weeks in a faraway continent.

Sick.

Oh, and I do mean sick, literally.

It was probably the Mala Hotpot I had a week before my flight. Most probably the increase in alcohol intake around then. And the virgin clubbing-in-a-club experience (which made me realise that its really…meh).

Or maybe I was just sick with excitement haaaaa.

Tonsilitis, with the whole inflammation package: fever, sore throat and cough.

Cool.

Thankfully, I was left with mild temperature spikes (think 37.4 – 37.6 deg C max) the night before the flight.

With slightly under the max dosage for paracetamol in my system, plus a glass of sliced ginseng tea (ew why mum), I heaved my luggage onto the check-in conveyor belt. I was set for Heathrow.

En-route

The flight there made my excitement go away.

Don’t get me wrong. The service was impeccable, the entertainment system entertained. I was a proud Singaporean onboard Singapore Airlines.

But the excitement was making me feverish.

By the time lunch was served, I dug in and polished everything and was feeling happy. And calm. And that remained that way until I touched down in London. Oh and there was a lone episode of Running Man on the entertainment system, so that helped.

End-route

It was 4am Singapore time. 9pm in London.

I grabbed my backpack and eyed the dragon that snaked the immigration hall.

‘Ah, another flight just got here. Dang it.’

Finally, as the immigration officer smiled and chopped my passport after a brief conversation, I made a (calm) beeline for the arrival hall.

You would think that I would bound out into the arrival hall and immediately spot my boyfriend’s face in a crowded place because he’s beautiful. Run straight into his embrace, arms flailing, like an anime couple with the sparkly background and the rising crescendo of an orchestra in anticipation of our first physical touch after 9 months. Tears running down my face as I come to the realization that I am home.

At least, that was how I envisioned it.

 

Nah.

We saw each other and beamed like idiots and I strolled towards him with sleepy eyes, arm aching from the weight of my luggage.

It was past 4am in SG.

But the whole feel-at-home part minus the crying did happen. So yay 🙂

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We tried our best to not look sleepy :)))))

Sour Taste

The night settles into its silence, the rumble of distant cars along the highway. The occasional closing of metal gates, families calling it a day, the sound of dishes being washed.

I’m still.

As still as my body would allow me.

I feel my stomach rise, a ballooning of butterflies that seem to travel up my chest. A sour taste catches at the back of my throat and I inhale deeply, willing the balloon to go back down. To be still.

Another pang rises, as if rebellious. Another deep breath.

My heart hammers, drumming and encouraging the fear that bubbles in the pit of my abdomen. The bubble rises with the horrid pang and bursts when it reaches my heart. Deep inhale.

Slow exhale.

Why do I feel so nervous?

This feels like those times right before a major presentation.

It feels like when I lose my footing, that jolt of a moment: slowed and extended for the longest time.

And it feels like the first minute on stage, the moment right before we sing the first note of the first song. It has to be perfect. This is it, all the hours of practice for this.

It feels like the moment right before I received my ‘O’ level results. What if I don’t do well enough? What if all was for naught? What if I have to repeat the entire exam?

It feels like those nights when my chest constricted, when I sat down to study for the prelims. Fear that I might not do well, that I may never understand how math work and fail the exam.

It feels like standing on the other side of a two-way mirror.

 

Inhale.

 

 

 

Exhale.

Vesak Day Eve

(via Daily Prompt: Ceremony)

As a child, the night before Vesak Day was always an exciting one.

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It meant sleeping late and meeting friends who attended prayers at the same Buddhist temple in Kembangan. The prayer session would start after sundown and end at midnight.

Refugees (those who accept Buddhism as their religion are said to have ‘taken refuge’) would be dressed in black robes, similar to those of the two head Venerables, whose robes were brown.

Dad would bring his own robe in a black canvas zip bag, labelled with his Buddhist name. As we trudged up to the compound, the temple appeared enchanting rather than eerie. We could see the candles sparkling in the darkness of the courtyard, where an altar had been set up. Stringed lights lined the metal fences that separated the quiet neighbourhood from the buzz building up as more refugees arrived.

At the threshold of the prayer hall, slippers and shoes of all shapes and sizes splayed out at the bottom of the steps. I remember arranging them such that they looked like sun rays radiating out from the doorway…out of sheer boredom. Tonight, there seemed to be more shoes than ever before.

The atrium had a parquet floor that squeaked in spots, parquet stairs that led up to the second floor, where us kids would hang out and play when the adults were praying. But the darkness of night has made the stairway creepy. None of us have ever dared to go up during night service.

The prayer hall was dazzling with fairy lights and the peaceful gaze of the imposing gold statue of the Lord Buddha, surrounded by smaller painted ceramic statues of other Bodhisattvas.

Kneeling benches had been laid out on the red carpet, much like the pews of a church. Cushions that were usually used for Sunday services were neatly stacked in the meeting room on the other end of the prayer hall: a room segregated with wooden and glass doors.

As the clock neared the start of service, elderly refugees began to take their seats in plastic chairs that lined the hall while everyone else found spots along the kneeling benches.

The Venerables entered the hall and began leading the chanting of Buddhist scriptures. My brother and I merely sat cross-legged in between my parents as they bowed their heads in prayer. Whenever either one of us got restless, Mum would shoot disapproving looks at us.

We’d wait for the first chant to be over, waiting for her to give us the nod like she did every Sunday morning; a cue to run off and find our friends. But not today. Today, we had to sit through the entire duration of prayers.

Soon, we were handled candles. Orange-coloured candles in a small round glass that smelled like caramel. The numerous small candles illuminated the prayer hall, their light bouncing off the small tiles that lined the wall. I was in awe at the sight before me: the hall glowed a rich gold, awash with warmth from the many candle flames, the slow drone of a language that I didn’t understand, with the kind gaze from the Lord Buddha looking down at me.

The head Venerable started walking with a hand chime, keeping her pace slow and in rhythm, the other Venerable followed behind her with a wooden Moktak (‘Wooden Fish’ percussion instrument). The first row of refugees followed and soon the whole congregation including us children were in a huge conga line of sorts. Led out of the main doorway of the prayer hall, we went round the perimeter of the frontyard and down a red carpet towards the backyard, where the special altar sat.

Along the way, we’d catch sight of our friends, two pairs of siblings: older sister and younger brother; just like my brother and I. We smiled at each other but no monkey business this time. The atmosphere was ladened with solemn sincerity, gratitude and prayers for the Lord Buddha’s birthday. A giggle would break that and of course, bring about stern looks from Mum.

Atop the altar was a small pool of water surrounded by rocks, where water trickled down the little nooks and crannies. A little fountain in the middle of the pool gently spouted water that licked the sides of a lotus flower the size of a soup bowl. Sitting in the middle of the plastic lotus flower was a statuette of baby Buddha.

The Venerables reached the altar and each stood on one side, while devotees came up to bathe the baby Buddha by scooping water from the pool using plastic soup ladles decorated with jasmine flowers. The chanting continued till everyone in the congregation has had their turn.

I remember being too short for the altar, when my parents had to carry me. And then, I remember being able to effortlessly reach the ladle on my own. Vesak Day eves would be spent here for most of my childhood. And then trips to the temple would stop.

As I entered my teen years, the motion of religious ceremonies began to seep away from  my life and that of my brother’s, only to exist in the form of memory.