Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Whew!! The online shop is finally open!

It has been almost two months since I started to develop a concept of building the online shop that sells unique handmade items that I found here in India. Yep, I have been networking, gathering items, collecting information, building site, etc. And today, I finally managed to launch it!! It has been a long winding two months for sure. Whew!

The site, called Indo no Mori, is completely targeting ONLY the Japanese customers at this point, but of course I have a plan to go global, which by the way has been my profession for the last 20+ years - yep turning something local to another local or to global.

I am also in a process of creating my company here in India. My goal is not to be a retail shop owner but to be the bridge between India and Japan business. I strongly believe my 20+ years of experience in the field can be leveraged through this vehicle. More to come on this later...

Anyway, I am just happy the shop is now open! And thanks to those who helped me to get through the launch! I LOVE India, and hopefully the shop will disseminate the love to my Japanese customers.

One project done - or started :)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

My yoga experience in India: Part 1

My hubby and I hired a yoga teacher about a month ago. Ever since then, we have been practicing yoga three times a week here in our living room. We were lucky to be able to find a teacher who was willing to come to our house, as it conserves us lots of time - not to mention about the traffic here in Bangalore.

We had a couple of trial lessons before we decided on the current teacher who had a very unique unorthodox way of teaching. The unique thing about his teaching is that he would not go directly into poses like other teachers would do. Because both of us are pretty fond of unorthodox things, we decided to go with him.

So... I have been practicing yoga for the last two years in LA and in Brno, Czech Republic. I am not a complete beginner - I thought.  I was wrong :-(

The way he teaches is that he breaks the poses into pieces and let us carry on one piece at a time by making sure that we got the most basic things including the alignment of the body parts, etc. We have had 11 lessons so far, but the only poses we have done so far are Sun Salutation and Downward Facing Dog :)  And, although I have done these poses many times before, it has been eye-opening experience for me.

Here are some of the pieces he has been training us on:

1) This is the ultimate basic lesson - how to stand :)  We think we stand straight, but most of the time we are leaning slightly forward. The best way to check is of course to check yourself in a mirror. The weight of your body should be on your heels, and once you do so, you may feel like you are leaning backwards but in fact you are being straight. Then try to grab the floor with your all five toes. The way our teacher told us to do is to lift the toes first and push it down to the floor with the tip of your toes, so that the tip of your toes are completely flat on the floor as if the part is bent 90 degrees from the rest of your toes. Keep standing like that for at least 30 seconds.

2) The next one is how to bend forward. When you go from Urdhva Hastasana to Uttanasana by bending forward, we tend to stick our bottom backwards without noticing it. Your bottom should be always on top of your heels, and the best way to practice this is to stand straight (see above) 7-10cm away from the wall, and bend forward slowly without touching your bottom to the wall. You need to strengthen your toes quite a bit. If you reach the point of difficulty, you bend your knees slightly to support your toes and bend further down. You should go slowly. Btw, the same theory has to be applied when you come back up.

3) The third one is the downward facing dog. Similar to what I was taught in LA, you put the force into the direction of your heels. Your heels should be on the floor flat completely. But your weight should be distributed equally to your feet and hands. In other words, unlike what I was taught, you should not lock in your shoulders by stretching them so much. That would prevent you from equalizing the weight distribution. Shoulders should be relaxed, your chin should be up looking forward rather than looking back through your legs, and push your lower back towards your thighs to further push your heels down to the floor. Done! Right...

Our teacher learned yoga from his father who learned from B. K. S. Iyengar. It might be the reason why he is so keen about the alignment. But, so far we have been loving our teacher and his teaching of new (to us) yoga!  More to come...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

LaaJawaab in Indiranagar

Food: ★★★★
Service: ★★★★ 
Ambience: ★★★★


This restaurant which is located on CMH Rd and is only 2 mins walk from our house had been on our radar for a while. And, one day one of our Indian friends mentioned how great the food was there, we immediately decided to go.  Indeed, it was great!  And to our joyful surprise, the guy who used to host the restaurant called Chamomile (which I never got around to write about it before it sadly got shut down) that we loved was there as a new host!  We were happy to see him again there, and he was so kind to let us know the popular dishes. 

This restaurant serves Northern Indian cusines. According to the host, a lot of the ingredients are shipped directly from New Delhi area. He also told us that the restaurant is famous for their cheese dishes, and especially the cottage cheese (Paneer) dishes are their signature ones. Since we are not a huge eater, we got two appetisers, one main dish, and a dessert.  And, it filled us up.

Dsc01395For the first appetiser, we got Achari Paneer Tikka. Paneer was nicely grilled but so soft and rich. Loved it! We also got a non-veg appetizer called Peshwari Murgh Tikka. Chicken chunks were again very tender and juicy. For the main dish, we went for Saagwala Ghosht. The creamy spinach puree was just excellent which of course satisfied my hubby very much. To me, it was a bit too creamy, but I liked the taste of it.  The Jeera rice was wonderful as well as Butter Garlic Naan. 

For the dessert, we tried Backed Gulab Jamun. Sweeeeet! 

southindies in Indiranagar

Img_3314Food: ★★★★☆
Service: ★★★★☆ 
Ambience: ★★★★
This is another restaurant that we enjoyed a while ago in Indiaranagar. It is on the 100 ft Rd between CMH and Old Madras Rd. The restaurant, as you can tell by its name, is totally dedicated to the authentic south Indian dishes.  It is a higher-end restaurant, and the service is just wonderful. 
You can choose to go for an al a carte or a set menu which lets you taste little bit of popular dishes. Since it was our firt time there, we went for a set menu, which we highly recommend. We enjoyed everything, but I have to say my favorite was definitely the assortment of appetizers. Yummy!  For those of you who must have some alcohol with your dinner, sorry this place is totally vegetarian and alcohol free. But, you can probably enjoy their signature lemonade :) 

See the full gallery on Posterous

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hoysaleswara Empire: Halebid and Belur - Part 2

Being very satisfied with Chennakesava Temple, we headed to Halebid which is only 10-15 mins away from Belur. The temple there is called Hoysaleswara Temple and is a bit larger than the one in Belur. The temple, dedicated to Shiva, was completed in 1121, four years after Chennakesava Temple.

Passing through the people trying to sell us postcards and guidebooks, we went into the site which had a beautifully landscaped garden and a museum. As it was around 4 o'clock, we skipped the museum and went into the temple directly.

Just like Chennakesava Temple, or I should say even more than Chennakesava Temple, the entire outer wall is covered with a massive number of carvings which tell us a great deal about people's lives back then. The horizontal array of smallish carvings is just fun to watch. One carving was about a man with a vessel of wine, and the guide was telling us how people used to enjoy wine and that drinking "moderately" is not a bad thing but rather a good for your health. I agree :D

The bigger pieces on the top layer are just as impressive.

On display at the temple is Nandi, the bull who served as a vehicle of Shiva and as a gate keeper of Shiva and his wife Parvati. The bull, made out of one huge piece of soapstone, still had such a great complexion that you could see the reflection on its surface.

Anyway, we were so happy with a quick (or long depending on how you see it) day trip to Belur and Halebid. We highly recommend this tour to anyone who lives near Bangalore.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hoysaleswara Empire: Halebid and Belur - Part 1

Yesterday was a Hindu holiday celebrating Dasara (or spelled as Dussehra) which is also known as Vijayadashmi ("Vijay" meaning victory and "Dashmi" meaning tenth day). It is believed that it was on that day that Lord Rama killed the demon-king Ravana and rescued his abducted wife Sita. So, it was the celebration of the day that good conquered evil. We were planning to go to Mysor for a big celebration they have every year, but we gave up on the idea when we found out all the tickets were already sold out.

So, while everyone was celebrating Dasara, we decided to take a day trip to towns called Halebid and Belur that are about 4hrs west of Bangalore.

Thanks to our new driver Taj for taking us on the 8 hr round trip drive! It was definitely worthwhile going there. We started out by visiting Chennakesava Temple in Belur. Chennakesava means "handsome keshava" and it is a form of Vishnu. The temple was built in 1117 during the Hoysala dynasty. Hoysala which can be divided into two words "hoy" and "sala" means "Strike Sala" where Sala was said to be the person who led the dynasty and who also fought single-handedly with a vicious tiger and killed it. There is no historical backup on this story, but the legend says that the dynasty was named after him to honor his bravery. It was not Sala but King Bittiga (aka Vishnuvardhana) who later built several temples around the region after defeating the western Chalukays.

What's fascinating about this temple as well as the other one in Halebid that I will mention in my next post, is the number of decorative statues (or I should probably call carvings) on the outer walls. Almost all the walls are entirely covered by layers of carvings. The lowest row is decorated with elephants (symbolizing strength), next one with tigers (symbolizing courage), and the third from the lowest with horses (symbolizing speed).

And at the top, there are 38 freestanding bracket figures of  madanikas (Salabhanjika–celestial damsels) in various dancing and ritual postures angled between the upper walls and the over hanging eaves. All the figures are interesting to watch, as they depict how people lived back then. The one above the main entrance to the left is a famous one, which is a lady admiring her beauty in the mirror.

As you step into the main temple, the first thing you will notice is the pillars. There are a total of 48 pillars and all are unique in shape and decoration. In front of the shrine (the room with the Vishnu statue) is a round dancing stage which has a gorgeous looking ceiling and four more of those madanikas.

One of the interesting pillars is on the south-east side of the dancing stage, called Narashima Pillar, which the guide told us it used to rotate on its axis amazingly. The carvings on the pillar are just breathtaking. There is one small blank space, which is said to be left that way intentionally by the sculptor, challenging others to fill the space. Nice touch!

Another pillar which is closer to the shrine is also noteworthy. According to the guide, who seems to be in love with the woman carved on the pillar (^^), she is considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Forget Cleopatra or Nefertiti or Mona Lisa or Julia Roberts! What's her name? I forgot... :(

The guide was really into explaining why she was the most beautiful one. Long slanted eyes, curvy eyebrows, round face, fat lips, etc.

He even mentioned how her second toe is longer than the first one, which is considered to be important.

Guess what my hubby did immediately. He checked my toes :D  

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wanna keep looking young? Eat Amla!

Here is another wonderful fruit from India again :) This time, it was Mary who introduced me to this new fruit called Amla. She told me she used to eat them all the time at school but had completely forgotten about them until she recently read an article about Amla's wonderful medical power.

Amla is rich in vitamin C and also contains tannin like in green tea and wine. It is typically eaten after being marinated in salt or honey. I ate one raw, but it was just too bitter to eat and I decide to dip it in a lemon/salt mixture. But as the old proverb says, good medicine is bitter in the mouth.

According to this article, Amla can be pickled with salt, oil, and spices, and also used as a primary ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine. It normalizes body function, balances the neuroendocrine system, and improves immunity.

It is almost like an anti-aging drug (youth in both physical and mental health). The efficacy of this fruit varies. The same article above mentioned that it works for the following (I sort of liked "sensation like a wet blanket covering the chest" - hmmmm I wonder what it is like):

"vitiligo, abdominal tumors, flatulence, dropsical swellings (edema), chlorosis, alcoholism, piles, ailments of the grahani (duodenum), chronic intermittent fever, diseases of the chest, diseases of the head, diarrhea, disgust for food, cough, gonorrhea, epistasis, enlargement of the spleen, abdominal dropsy when new, discharge of phlegm matter, hoarseness of the voice, discoloration or loss of complexion, anemia, intestinal worms, waste of dhatus (main body components), some forms of asthma, vomiting, loss of virility, weakness of the limbs, blockage of ducts of various kinds, sensation like a wet blanket covering the chest, a similar sensation in the heart, and dullness of the memory and understanding."

Anyway, Mary and I started to do our own marinating (in honey). You can also buy pickled ones in a jar, and I heard there are dried ones, too.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

phobidden fruit in Indiranagar

Food: ★★★★☆
Service: ★★★★☆
Ambience: ★★★★
This restaurant, which looked like a little hide-away, was highly recommended by my friend, and finally we had a chance to go there. The restaurant is a bit difficult to find as the entrance is small, but it is on 12th Main west of 100 Ft Rd. Close to Yamaha store.
Phobiddenfruit-3We went there for lunch on Sunday, and the place was pretty relaxed. Ambience was great. A palm tree going through the roof was somewhat amuzing and nice (in the sense that they kept the tree rather than cutting it down just to build the restaurant).
One thing we missed so much in LA is Pho. For those of you who are not familiar with Vietnamees food, pho is noodles in broth. Really yummy. And, there it was on the menu!  The pho was great and a dish of crispy spring rolls was also fabulous.
Highly recommended!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fish bone stuck in your throat?

So... I had a fish bone stuck in my throat for nearly a week, and it got so bad that I finally decided to go see a doctor (yep, I am not so fond of hospitals). First, I tried a doc near our house that my great neighbor Leela introduced me to. The doc was professional yet old and didn't have any kind of new-and-high-tech-looking devices in his small office. He looked into my throat with his antique-looking head scope (and with his reading glasses on??) but couldn't find anything, so he recommended I go to a bigger hospital. Yes, yes, so off I went to Manipal Hospital near the old airport.

The hospital was packed with people as usual. But something was so different from the typical hospital ambiance. You know how hospitals are usually white, white, and white with blue or green clothed workers and occasionally colored clothed visitors. The minute I stepped in, all kinds of color came into my vision. Bright! Lots of bright saris all over the place. That somewhat added warmth to the typically cold feeling of hospitals that I hate.

Since this was my first time there, I had to go through registration. It was pretty organized, to my surprise. An old man (probably a retired volunteer?) was at the main reception area and guided me how to do the registration. I filled out a piece of paper with my name, address, passport #, etc, and went back to the reception desk where three ladies were behind the counter typing in what the people filled out in their registration forms. On the counter, there was a monitor facing towards the patient, so they can check what the lady behind the counter is typing. This is good, as you can catch any errors she may be making, such as in my case when she typed "India" as my birth place. So I immediately raised a red flag and said "no, no, do I look Indian?"  She looked up only with her eyes, smiled, nodded, and immediately fixed the entry. Efficient!

The old man told me that the ENT is on the 1st floor (meaning 2nd floor in the US) and that I need to register there again.  He was very helpful. The ENT section was also crowded. I had called earlier to make an appointment, so they were expecting me. I got there 15 mins earlier than my appointment, so they told me to just wait. I waited for an hour (45 mins or so past my appointment) and finally my name-like name was called. They called me differently, but I figured such a weird name had to be mine :-)

Guessing from his height (tall!), the doctor might have been from the north. He had something comical about him. He wore a friendly smile somewhere on his face (couldn't really pin down which part of his face) all the time. When I explained what I think might have happened and told him that the other OLD doctor couldn't find a bone, he giggled and told me "let's see if this younger doctor could find it".  Everyone laughed. However, he could not find it, either. So, he decided to go with the endoscope. Ouch! That was the one thing I had hoped to avoid, as I've had one before in the US and it was really uncomfortable. Yet I was so eager to get rid of the bone that I went for it of course.

One of the nurses took me to another room that had some spiffy looking new devices and equipment which calmed me down somehow (yes, strange certain objects can calm people down) and started to numb my nostrils and throat. After waiting for 15 mins, my throat was still sore (I also had some cold...), I asked for more numbing spray (yep... call me a weakling). After waiting for another 10 mins, the same doctor came and started to put an endoscope into my throat through my nose. It tickled but didn't hurt like last time. Okay, this isn't bad. I could still feel the endoscope going up and down and knew he found something when I heard the sucking sound. It took less than 3 mins. I got up, and there they were - four pictures of my throat on the monitor in front of me. One of the eight nurses tightly squeezed into the room to watch the doctor's fabulous work explained to me in detail what the four pictures were and how they could see a small white object next to my esophagus in one picture and how that was removed in the second picture. Indeed, there was something stuck in the corner of my throat, and now it was GONE!

The doc asked me how I felt, but all I could say was that I was numb. Sorry doc! All of them laughed :)  Although my throat is still sore due to my cold probably, I no longer have that strange feeling in my throat. Thank you doc! You were great.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ganesh Chaturthi - Bye bye Ganesh~

I already wrote about this on my Japanese blog, but thought I would share briefly here for my English-speaking friends as well.

Ganesh Chaturthi, which starts on the fourth day of the waxing moon period in late Aug to early Sept, is one of the most important festivals for Hindus. This year, it started on Sep 1. 

Around this time, people buy Ganesh statues made of mud or clay, or, nowadays, of plaster of paris, which is causing an environmental problem, and worship it for up to 10 days. Then typically on the 11th day (this depends on the family tradition and some may do this on the 3rd, 5th, or 7th day), they would take Ganesh to the nearby sea or river to immerse it, so as to let go of all the misfortunes Ganesh gathered during the puja for the family. In the case of Bangalore, which borders no ocean, people immerse their Ganeshes in a closed part of a lake. Our super driver Babu took us there one evening (thank you Babu!). The surrounded area was filled with people immersing Ganeshes and watching other people's Ganeshes being immersed and children oohing and aahing at the sight.

Ganesh statues come in different sizes, with the biggest over 70 feet high. The biggest one we saw was probably 8 feet high that day. Still, it is too big for a human to carry it into the water, so they were using a crane to carry the bigger ones to the middle of the lake, so that the boys can just dump (yep, dump) them into the lake. It was rather funny as the act of dumping Ganesh itself really didn't have a feel of any sort of sacred immersion (do you call that?).

On the other hands, smaller Ganeshes were carefully immersed into the water.

Note from Bob:
On Monday our office had a Ganesh-related pooja that lasted almost an hour. Apparently this kind of thing doesn't bother the Muslims or Christians at all, compared to the havoc that would be caused by, say, having a nativity scene in the lobby of your company in the US, which would result in multimillion dollar lawsuits. I myself participated in the pooja (carried out by the same unassuming priest that did our housewarming pooja), including circularly waving some flaming camphor in front of the idol, who looked quite handsome, not to mention pleased, festooned as he was with garlands of flowers with offerings of bananas and coconuts in front. Tomorrow is the seventh day and as there is some related festivity in the office (where the Ganesh idol remains enshrined for the duration of the celebration), I will be wearing ethnic clothes along with other employees, who look quite smart indeed in their elegant kurtas and saris.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Trying my hand at Biryani!

I confess.... I had never heard of Biryani until I came to India despite the fact that I LOVE Indian food and have eaten out in many Indian restaurants. But Biryani is literally all over the place at least in Bangalore. Almost every restaurant has Biryani on the menu. So, I asked our super housekeeper Mary to teach me how to make Biryani. The whole process took about an hour, but here is how you make it.

Veggie Preparation 
- wash rice (we made 3 cups) and soak it in water (let it soak for a while)
- chop onion
- chop tomato
- chop mint
- chop cilantro (a.k.a. coriander leaves)

- some ginger garlic paste (you can get it at any store)
- star anise (2 to 3 pieces)
- cinnamon stick (just 1, break it into big pieces)
- cardamon (2 or 3 pieces)
- cloves (3 or 4 pieces)

- cube the chicken (we used about 400g of chicken)
- massage with salt
- then marinate it in the mixture of curd (yogurt) and turmeric

1) heat the pot and put in some olive oil (enough oil to cover the bottom of your pan). While the oil is getting hot, rinse rice and drain it (let it dry).
2) add all the spices until aroma comes out
3) then add chopped onion, constantly stir until it gets slightly brown (it took me about 5 mins)

4) then add ginger garlic paste, cilantro, and tomato, constantly stir until it gets stew-like (it took me another 5 mins)

5) add marinated chicken into the pot, mix well.

6) add 1 cup of water to the pot, cover, and cook for 10-15 mins. In another pot, boil 6 cups of water  (we used 6 cups as we used 3 cups of rice).
6) measure (or guess) how many cups of juice remain in the pan with chicken after 10-15 mins, add enough boiling water into the pot to make the total water of 6 cups
7) add perfectly drained rice into the pot, add chopped mint, some salt, cover, and cook until the water is gone (for about 10 mins).

8) stir up and let it cool a bit before you eat!

That's it. Very easy. Now I know how to make it, maybe I will try mutton Biryani next time.
Thank you Mary for the brilliant cooking lesson!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Bindi and the sixth chakra

As you probably know, bindi is a red dot typically put on the forehead of a married Hindi woman here in India. Nowadays, it is becoming more like a fashion I heard. There are lots of cute and decorative sticker-type bindi that you can buy at the local jewelry stores (I also heard that you can buy at any "fashion stores" = clothing stores, but I haven't tried yet), and I also got myself a couple of them the other day just to explore how they would add some spice to my forehead :-)

Anyway, what's interesting is the particular location on your forehead that you place the bindi at. It is in the eyebrow region and is said to be the sixth chakra, Ajna. It is also commonly known as the third eye. According to the wiki, however, Ajna chakra is positioned in the brain, directly behind the eyebrow center, while its superficial activation site is at the eyebrow region.

Ajna is the chakra of the mind. When something is seen in the mind's eye, or in a dream, it is being 'seen' by Ajna. It has two petals representing the psychic channels Ida and Pingala. They would meet at the central Shushumna channel, before rising to the crown chakra, Sahasrara.

Ida is the lunar nadi (life force energy similar to "ki" in Japan; "nadi" comes from the Sanskrit root of "nad" which means "channel", "stream", or "flow"), and it corresponds to the left hand side of the body and the right hand side of the brain. Pingala is the solar nadi, and it corresponds to the right hand side of the body and the left hand side of the brain. As you may guess, Ida is an introverted passive energy, and Pingala is the extroverted active energy.

There are two deities (gods) residing in the chakra. One is Ardhanarishvara (a hermaphrodite form of Shiva-Shakti), symbolising the primordial duality of subject and object. I believe these are represented by the letters on the petal 'ham' (left side) and 'ksham' (right side). And the other is Hakini Shakti, who is inside the central circle, is moon white white with 6 faces, and 6 arms, holding a book, a skull, a drum, a rosary, and making the gestures of granting boons and dispelling fears. I found the drawing (above) of Hakini Shakti on one of the sites about Ajna chakra.

Ajna is said to be the entry point of external spiritual energy and the exit point of the Kudalini energy. It is from here that a person harmonizes the forces within him/herself and achieves a balance between Ida and Pingala.

According to this site, when energy is not flowing freely from this chakra there will be poor focus and intuition. For instance, your perception of the world, sense of purpose in your life, morals, and your thought process could be out of normal. I guess you need to leave this chakra open but yet in a very cautious and balanced way. Maybe my new bindi will help me focus around this chakra a little bit more.

Maybe this dog that I saw the other day on the street which had a little bindi on her forehead might be much more awakened than I am :)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Edo, Japanese restaurant, in Bangalore

Edo5Food: ★★★★☆
Ambience: ★★★★☆
Service: ★★★★☆
We were so happy that one of the Japanese ladies that I met told us about this restaurant. Immediately off we went :)

It is in a 5-star hotel called ITC Hotel really close to UB City. The ambience is superb. Although it is located on a ground floor and you don't get to see starry sky or anything, but you get to see a rather zen-like garden through the big windows. Sushi chef is Japanese (yes!), and he assorted sashimi for us out of very limited ingredients he gets (according to him). Of course, you won't get the freshness you get in Japan, but all of them were pretty good. We also ordered some robata type of food (grilled food) . Our favorite was Aspara Buta Maki (asparagus wrapped with a thin slice of pork meat).  It is rather a common plate in Japan, but it was rare for us in India as people hardly ever eat pork here. Tempura Moriawase (assorted Tempura) was also good. Overall we enjoyed everything. And, they also had a wonderful display of different sake and shochu! That's so rare in Bangalore, as I heard that from another Japanese restaurant that they could not import sake for a while due to the earthquake.

One problem is the price. Most of the dishes are above 500 Rs. Sashimi platter (regular size) was 2000 Rs. Pretty much double of what you usually pay in Japan (for the served proportion). So, be prepared. It is definitely a place to go for a nice occasion.