Going RED

After bidding farewell to Grandpa Moose at Sea-Tac, Gloria had her first Target experience. She loved seeing how much of the store matched her car seat, and she took to the adventure well. Her parents had a lot of fun carting her around and documenting her reactions.

Flashing her gang sign
Flashing her patented gang sign

Enjoying the ride in her shopping cart
Loving the shopping cart ride

Spongebob squarepants has an appetite for little ones
Surprise! SpongeBob SquarePants!

Spice Up Your Life

Armed with our newfound knowledge from yesterday’s spice tour, we spent the morning in Darajani Market acquiring some take-home scents of Zanzibar. The first few shops we walked by were staffed by aggressive hawkers that were all selling the same touristy-labeled packets of ground spices.

Further away from the market center, on a quiet street far removed from hawkers (and bloody cow parts), we stumbled across a shop with barrels of ground and whole spices available in bulk that reminded me a bit of Roopak in Karol Bagh. We were able to browse in peace, and then put together a small stash of coffee, vanilla, whole nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and ground chilies (which was nothing compared to the local who arrived just after us with a long shopping list of large quantities to fill).

Now all we need to do is think of the best uses for these spices when we get home…cardamom-vanilla bean ice cream anyone?

Kenny with potential purchases
So many spices…how to choose?

Spices
Bulk spices

Cinnamon
Cinnamon

Wooden it be Nice

The Mombasa area is famous for its popular beaches, and somewhat infamous for its “beach boy” phenomenon. Beach boys are young men who roam up and down the beach and sell anything from trinkets to snorkeling tours to safaris (and according to some sources, they can also offer much more). People are generally split between those who find their services quite useful, and those who find them an annoyance.

This afternoon Lauren and I decided to build a sandcastle, and two beach boys approached and asked if they could help out. We acquiesced, and they sat down, started digging, and introduced themselves as Felix (whose real name is Suleman, Sule for short), and Jay (whose real name is Juma, and also goes by “Doctor Bushman”).

We played with sandcastles for awhile (Jay made what looked like a crocodile), and we talked about politics. They wanted to know if Obama was making a difference. We told them that we’ve been mostly unplugged, but briefed them on health care reform; I told them how it takes a long time to turn a big ship around (they seemed to get the analogy). They told us a bit about local Kenyan politics. They are about to have a vote on a referendum to ratify their new constitution. The big vote is this Wednesday (which is also Obama’s 49th birthday). They mentioned that they are a little concerned about possible riots, given how the 2007 election played out, but that there is overwhelming support for the referendum in the Mombasa area, so hopefully things should be ok this time (at least near Gulu beach).

After about 30 minutes of chit-chat and sand castle building, they finally made their sales pitch. They sell personalized key chains made of ebony wood that they carve into the shape of an animal with your name on it. We normally dismiss these types of overtures, but the boys were very nice, we decided they’d make for nice little souvenirs in our shadow box, and we agreed on an ok price. A few hours later, we were the happy recipients of a rhino (for me) and a lion (for LL).

We also learned a few facts about the ebony wood; it comes from Tanzania (they don’t have any ebony trees in southern Kenya), and you want to use the pieces that are in between the bark layer and the inner core. This is the strongest section of the wood, and also allows for the tree to regenerate the harvested piece.

The beach boys
Me and the beach boys

Animalitos
Our ebony carving purchases

Indian Dress-up

This morning the rest of the Seattle crew arrived in Bangalore. Although they were jet lagged, we only had 34 hours remaining until the wedding, so we were forced to ply everyone with coffee and take them downtown for an Indian wedding clothes shopping trip.

Lauren and I had brought our outfits from last fall, and while we were in Delhi Gio purchased two kurti in Karol Bagh (though no pointy shoes). So this afternoon on Commercial Street, Justin, Steve and Brad were the stars of the show.

On Sean and Archana’s recommendation, we started our adventures at Prestige the Man Store. While most of their sherwanis were a bit over the top decoration-wise (and quite pricey), they also had a large selection of reasonable kurti. After about 30 minutes of fashion shows, we had fulfilled half of our mission; Brad walked away with two outfits, and Justin with one. Furthermore, since we were shopping at an upscale store in India, we were served another round of coffee. While Steve was a little distraught that he had come up short at Prestige, he struck gold (well, rust actually) at FabIndia. A few street-side shops provided the last two kurti, as well as an assortment of stoles to complete the new ensembles.

With wedding preparations behind us, we celebrated our purchases over drinks at the 13th floor, a bar in the tallest building on MG Road that provided a great view of the daily thunderstorm (it is monsoon season), followed by an awesome meal at my favorite sit-down restaurant in Bangalore, Coconut Grove. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone decked out tomorrow night for the main event.

Justin making shopping decisions
Justin finally narrowed his choices to two…but how to decide?

Brad's kurta Justin's kurta for the reception
Brad decided on the “Greek god” look for the ceremony, and we got to see how Justin would fit into the Indian royal court

Drinks with a view
After jet lag and heavy duty shopping, it’s important to unwind with drinks overlooking the city parade grounds

Sunday Market Signspotting

On Sundays there is a big market event south of town. We went by this morning to get some fresh produce and a few more household items for our new apartment. One of the other things the Sunday market is famous for is cheap clothing. We didn’t buy any, but we did capture a few entertaining photos.

Denies jeans
The logo denies any alleged similarity to Dickies pants

Levev club jeans
These will get you into an exclusive Israeli dance club

Read emeil
Today’s To Do List – 10. Run spell check

Chiang Mai: The place to get stuff done

We have a number of errands that have accrued over the past two months. We’ve been able to finish them all here in Chiang Mai:

  1. Fix our camera lens – a few days ago the outer piece of our lens (that holds the filters/cap) came off. We found an old school little repair shop called Jear Photo near the eastern gate of the old city. The owner, Mr. Thonghua Srigoset, is a very friendly man who has been repairing cameras for 28 years. He had our lens fixed in the time it took to get a Thai massage and return to his shop. :)
  2. Mend a skirt – Garage fronts with people working sewing machines abound here.  We had a man around the corner from our hotel re-hem Lauren’s skirt for 20B (less than $1). It looks brand new!
  3. Design and print business cards – while we were in Goa we picked up some hand-carved stamps depicting a monkey and an elephant, intending to use them for designing simple business cards that reference this blog. For some reason we’ve never managed to both remember about this and have the requisite time while in a city with a printing service. For our first few days such a shop eluded us here, but it seems that the area around our orientation hotel is meant for our errands. Right across the street from the skirt mender is Chaos Creative – a graphic design shop that also prints business cards. The designer, Araya, scanned our stamps and emailed us PDF mock-ups of the layout yesterday. They will be ready tomorrow morning.
  4. Make a dress – while saree shopping in Bangalore, Lauren purchased 3m of dress fabric to get a Western-style formal dress made for my sister’s wedding. We found a great dress maker here, and the gown is supposed to be ready for pick-up tomorrow evening.

businessCards

Kampot Pepper

If someone has heard of Kampot, Cambodia, it’s likely because of Kampot pepper. Kampot province is rich in salt and pepper cultivation, and has been praised so highly that in the early 1900s it was said that any table in Paris worth their salt would have Kampot pepper.

We’ve had delicious stir-fries with Kampot pepper while in Cambodia, and acquiring some to take home was firmly on my agenda for our day of exploring. But I didn’t want to just get some dodgy gift bag of unknown provenance. On our little Kampot map I saw an item marked “Kampot Farm Link”. It was away from the main drag; not far from the Kampot Prison, we took a right down a dirt alley and came upon a little house with pallets of black pepper drying in the 35C-degree sun:

Kampot Farm Link

Kampot black pepper drying in the sun

Kampot black pepper

A young girl who didn’t speak any English motioned for us to wait a few minutes and disappeared. A few minutes later a man drove up in a motorbike and invited us inside. This Kampot Farm Link building serves mainly as a sorting, packaging, and distribution facility for pepper. We got the sense that tourists don’t usually make it over here. Our host, Sok Lim, was very friendly and was excited to explain to us the entire process from cultivation to drying to packaging.

We learned that there are four types of pepper: green, white, red, and black. Green pepper is the fresh fruit of the pepper vine used in restaurants in Cambodia and southern Thailand to make the aforementioned delicious stir-fries; it’s not available for export, as it will go bad within a week.

The other three types are dried variations of the same pepper plant, and Sok let us sample each type of peppercorn so that we could taste the difference. Black pepper is the most common form produced, and what we saw outside of the facility. Red pepper is dried using the same process as black pepper, but the peppercorns are sourced from the smaller, more intense peppercorns at the top of the plant. As a result, red pepper is rarer, spicier (and pricier) than black pepper. Finally, white pepper is black pepper that has been soaked in water until the black husk is dissolved. White pepper has a softer flavor and doesn’t linger as long on the palate.

The pepper from Kampot Farm Link is hand-sorted, and only the highest quality corns are used. Sok gave us examples of export vs. non-export quality corns. The export-quality ones are larger, richer in color, and almost perfectly round. He then demoed the packaging process. Once separated, the peppercorns are weighed, put into 100g, 500g, or 1kg bags, and vacuum sealed by an impressive piece of machinery (unfortunately it was too dark for a clean picture).

Quality control
Quality control

We also learned that right now more “Kampot pepper” is sold than the Kampot region produces, and there is a lot of fraud in this market. The Cambodian government is trying to combat this, and is working on getting its first origin-specific label (GI, or geographical indications) for pepper from Kampot province. Then, just like Champagne in France, it would be illegal to market any other type of pepper as “Kampot pepper”.

While there’s not much in the way of retail presence here, they do allow for direct sales, and we acquired some of each type of pepper. We also picked up a recipe card for Kampot Peppercorn Ice Cream that we’ll have to try after we return to Seattle.

Buying Kampot pepper in Kampot
Picture of my pepper purchases

This Little Piggy Went to the Night Market

The Luang Prabang night market offers one of the more pleasant shopping experiences I’ve found in Asia. It’s picturesque, not overly crowded, and there’s absolutely no pressure from the vendors. In India they may say “looking is free” but here they really mean it! It’s also unnecessary to engage in excessive haggling here – prices are reasonable to start out, and the vendors expect only a bit of gentle bargaining.

The market takes over the main street of town every day starting around 4pm, and offers the only evening activity in town, as far as I can tell. I’m not sure how late it runs because we’ve been calling it a night early these days. In case you get hungry from all of the shopping, street food abounds! At the end of the market is a block of sandwich and fruit shake vendors, and the carts selling grilled meats and the vegetarian buffet are just around the corner.

DSC_7758

DSC_7780

DSC_7810

DSC_7550
We couldn’t resist this little hand-sewn book with a wolf on the cover. We know that our future kids will love it.

India Shopping Spree

Inspired by most of our Indian friends who make visits to the motherland, we spent much of the past week stocking up on all kinds of goodies to take home with us. It started in Bangalore, where we acquired:

  • 2 tiffin boxes
  • An appam pan
  • 1/2 kg appam flour
  • 1 kg ragi flour
  • 1/2 kg ragi
  • 1/2 kg rava
  • Garam masala
  • MTR sambar mix
  • 1 Indian shirt for Kenny and 2 for me plus a pair of earrings at Anokhi
  • Various arts and crafts gifts from Archana’s mother’s crafts collective, including 4 purses for sisters and friends, 4 necklace/earring sets for mothers and sisters, and an elephant figurine for Gio

Then the madness continued here in Delhi, where we have added:

  • A pressure cooker
  • An idly stand
  • Chicken tikka masala seasoning and roasted chana at Roopak in Karol Bagh
  • A long kurti set for Kenny, several tops for me, and a shirt for Shawn from Westside
  • A shirt for Kenny from Fabindia
  • Another couple of shirts for me from various other shops in Karol Bagh
  • Two shirts for Kenny at the State Emporiums
  • A scarf for Jessica and an elephant-mobile for Jadon near Janpath

Good thing we bought that pressure cooker, ’cause we’ll need the box to carry all of this extra stuff home. We also bought a roll of packing tape to seal the box as checked baggage. Next time I come to India, I’m bringing an empty suitcase.

Kanya

Last weekend we went shopping for wedding clothes for Chandrika and Kirill’s Bangalore wedding. After a bit of browsing in the fancy saree shops on MG Road (including Deepam, where we acquired Kenny’s sherwani), I determined that I wanted a woven silk saree. It turns out this is a very traditional South Indian style, and Archana’s mother’s saree shop specializes in this very thing. Sean also assured us that Archana’s mother’s designs were much nicer.

Archana took me to her family’s house the next day to browse. The saree shop – called Kanya — is a small storeroom in their house lined with lockers, full to the brim with beautiful hand-woven Kanjeevaram silk sarees. Archana’s mother, Pramila Prasad, designs the sarees herself and employs a team of weavers who make the sarees. She told us that the designs often come to her while she is dreaming.

I had originally planned to purchase one saree, but in the end it was difficult to narrow my choices down to just two. ;)

A short description of the shop from the Bangalore City Project’s Malleswaram City Walk:

This saree boutique was founded by Ammani Iyengar in 1930 and is now run by her daughter-in-law Pramila Prasad. Smt. Ammani Iyengar, a lady with keen business acumen, started a chit fund to enable the women in the neighbourhood to purchase her Kanjeevaram sarees. She had her looms in Kanchipuram and designed them herself. The 110+ year old house in which this boutique is run, was originally the coach house to the property that belonged to her father-in-law Venkatranga Iyengar, one of the founders of Malleswaram. Her son Mr. S R Krishna Prasad continues to live here with his family.

DSC_6393
Me and Pramila before the wedding reception. She gave me an expert lesson on how to drape the saree (we’ll see if I can actually do it without her…)