9

Cocoa Island Resort, Maldives

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A Maldivian honoring greeting “Assalamu Alaikum” conveys a fervently peaceful message that denotes the Islamic culture of the Maldivian people. Maldivians welcome visitors with open arms, to share their naturally beautiful shores which, for centuries, have always been a haven of tranquility for travelers. The word “Maldives” means necklace of islands. The Maldives is located in the southwest of India and is composed of islands grouped in ring-like formations which look like necklaces or garlands from the air. With its location on the equatorial belt, Maldives has a tropical warm climate and abundant sunshine throughout the year.

Three months ago, my family and I had a short and very pleasing stay at Maldives, leaving behind all our hectic schedule and busy activities, to enjoy a total relaxation on a small remote gorgeous island, the Cocoa Island Resort. Cocoa Island Resort is a private tiny island in the southeast of Male atoll (i.e., the capital island of Maldives), with a beautiful lagoon, amazing house reef, crystal clear water and white sandy beach around the island. Cocoa Island Resort, which is part of the COMO group, offers an access to COMO Shambala Retreat – a world class spa . It is a perfect place for pampering ourselves. The spa also has an Ayurveda, an ancient Indian tradition of healing, which helps rebalance our body, minds and soul using all natural treatments. The complimentary daily yoga should not be missed when you stay there. The hydrotherapy pool is also a big plus, which can rejuvenate and refresh our body.

We arrived there without a big plan. Our main priority was only to rest, relax, and enjoy a quality family time together. Travelling with our new 7-month-old baby girl, Shiori, was somewhat challenging but certainly very entertaining. The key was to enjoy every precious moment with her.

Our activities in Maldives were simply doing nothing but relaxing at the resort. We woke up in the morning, sitting on our overwater bungalow deck while enjoying the sunrise and the gorgeous views, and sometimes jumping into the lagoon from our deck before breakfast. One day we booked a spa massage for my mom, but unfortunately my spa session had to be called off because of the need to take care my precious Shiori. Additionally, we also joined their complimentary yoga class every afternoon. The yoga class was easy to follow. The teacher was from India and well experienced. In the end of the class, a cold towel along with a Como Shambala ginger tea was provided for your enjoyment.

Diving is another popular activity at Maldives. Not only Maldives has some excellent coral reefs but it is also well known for its abundant and very diverse fish life that sets it apart from other dive destinations. Numerous channels between atolls allow nutrients to always circulate the Maldives through the currents’ sweep. This results in a vast number of fish consuming the passing feast. I started diving at Maldives with no high expectations, because I knew that Indonesia had much better dive sites. But then the reality of diving in Maldives was really above my expectations. I was truly amazed with the quantity and diversity of the fish I saw. The dive instructor even said that I was fortunate at that time to see unusually diverse assemblage of fish during the dive. He said we could not have a better dive than that in that particular area. I saw napoleon fish, moray eels, tunas, eagle rays, gray reef sharks, sea turtles and many other kinds of fish schooling during my dive trip. For non divers, snorkeling around the house reef is a must. Cocoa has direct access from your overwater bungalow to the house reef. Even though the corals are not very beautiful (compared to Indo-Pacific corals) but you can see various different kinds of marine life around the house reef. It is truly an unforgettable experience.

Now let’s talk about food at Cocoa Island Resort. Located by the sea and the resort’s infinity pool, Ufaa restaurant offers fine Southeast Asian and Mediterranean cuisine. Interestingly, Ufaa was presided over by an Italian Chef. They had a daily menu that always changes day to day so we could always try something new. The food was excellent. The seafood was always served fresh and tasty. In addition to daily menu, the restaurant also offered a set of Indian and Thai dinner menu on selected days. For a romantic and memorable dinner experience, you can ask your butlers to prepare a private candle-light dinner under a simple tent by the beach with water lapping at your toes.

We also went for a private dolphin watching cruise during sunset. We probably saw more than a hundred dolphins rhythmically dancing and playing with each other. The dolphins were friendly and swimming very close to our boat. It was a fabulous ending to our stay at Cocoa Island Resort before we returned to Male to catch our flight back to Indonesia.

5

The Eruptions of Mount Merapi

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Around 400,000 people are currently without homes and had to take refuge at temporary tent shelters, after Indonesia’s most active volcano, Mount Merapi (which literally means “Fire Mountain”), erupted on October 26th, 2010. Since then Merapi continued to sporadically spit out hot clouds and fiery lava. Experts say that the recent eruptions are the most violent listed for Merapi. Rescue workers have been recovering bodies from the affected villages and at least 300 villagers are dead due to burns and respiratory failure by hot volcanic ash. Nearby airports are still closed due to air travel safety reasons. Even US President Barack Obama was forced to cut short his whirlwind Indonesian visit because of volcanic ash clouds. The volcano’s intensity has decreased significantly, but a danger zone remains within a 12-mile radius from the volcano. When the eruption is going to end still cannot be determined.

Merapi overlooks the densely populated city of Yogyakarta in Central Java Province, and is only 30 miles away from the city of Solo/Surakarta, my beloved hometown. I’ve been staying in Solo since mid October, and now would like to blog my experiences with the Merapi eruptions. Fortunately, Solo is within a safe distance from Merapi, so the eruptions do not pose serious danger so far to life in Solo. Volcanic ash rains quickly struck Solo a few days after Merapi’s first eruption in October, enforcing officials to close Solo’s airport for several days. An airborne flight from Jakarta to Solo in which my brother in law boarded was forced to turn back to Jakarta after reaching (but not landing at) Solo, because some volcanic ash reached a certain height above Solo’s airport.

Three weeks after the first eruption, A and I traveled to some of the affected villages to see the destruction from the eruptions.  Our drive started from Solo to three affected villages: Cepogo, Selo, and Musuk. The three villages suffered from evident physical damages resulted from Merapi’s hot clouds. Thick volcanic ash blanketed homes and streets. Trees were all white, covered with thick gray ash. Their leaves were burnt by the acid ash. With heavy rains, the thick ash turned into mud. Consequently, many trees fell (some landing on houses) and rooftops collapsed because they were not strong enough to support the heavy burden of the ash. Dozens of villagers, including children, were busy cleaning their homes and main roads, some scooping ash from the ground while others sprayed water.

Merapi buried surrounding crop fields with a thick heavy layer of ash mud. Farmlands within 12 miles are now dead and it is difficult to determine when the fields become arable again. Experts believe it could take years for the farmlands to become productive again. Snake fruit industry is hardly hit by the disaster as it is one of the most important commercial plants that local residents near Merapi grow.

Our final destination was the Ketep Pass/Hill, located between Mount Merapi and Mount Merbabu (another mountain north of Merapi), which offers a spectacular view of the Central Java’s big five: Mt. Merapi, Mt. Merbabu, and Mt. Sindoro, Mt. Sumbing and Mt. Selamet. However, when we were there, we could not see any parts of the mountains because of the thick ash clouds from Merapi.

I also went to one of the evacuation camps in Sleman (a suburb of Yogyakarta) which accommodates around 22000 people. The evacuees took shelter in Maguwoharjo Stadium, which is a football stadium and the home for the soccer team “PSS Sleman”. Most of the refugees are farmers who lived near the slopes of the volcano. It was a very relieving sight to see that they had shelter and enough aid for food, clean water, medical supplies and clothes. Hundreds of Indonesian soldiers were involved in every form of assistance, from logistics to health support to cooking and playing with children.

The stadium and piles of boxes of donation

Many humanitarian organizations, private parties and volunteers showed concern for the victims of the disaster by setting up new tents for food aid distribution. High piles of boxes of water and instant food could be seen at the aid reception area, managed by volunteers. Teams of doctors from nearby universities came to the stadium to help with health and sanitation issues caused by prolonged stays in the crowded stadium. Even, evacuees could benefit free haircut and wash provided by some hair salon employees. It was amazing to see that many people were trying to help the Merapi victims by giving whatever they could give.

They’re wondering when they could be back to their villages

The refugees preferred to stay in the stadium building, rather than in the provided tents. Mats and blankets were the beds of choice. Some used piles of donated clothing as their beds. One of the refugees said they had no problem with food, as it is always available. Snacks and instant noodles were always readily provided. The situation for children was more bearable. Classes from damaged schools were taking place in the stadium. Children could make a lot of new friends coming from different school districts. Teachers had their hands full of activities entertaining children, hoping to help heal the trauma after evacuation.

Refugees in the Maguwoharjo Stadium

Despite the small comforts in the evacuation camps, many evacuees hoped their stay there would not be long and they could go back to their homes soon. Many refugees said that they were worried about their future as they had lost their crops and livestock, which were their main source of income. Indonesian authorities promised to compensate evacuees for livelihood and livestock lost to the eruptions. Let us all hope and pray so that the distribution process of the disaster fund relief can go smoothly without any major obstacles.

Preparing food for evacuees

I also would like to note that, although aid supplies are adequately available in the evacuation camps, people who are already back in the affected villages obviously still lack of food, medicines, baby supplies and other kinds of goods. So, for readers who are still planning to provide aid to Merapi disaster victims, I would suggest to send the aid supplies directly to the affected villages.

11

Cha-An Japanese Tea House

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Cha-An is a traditional but casual and classy Japanese tea house, serving excellent desserts and teas. Its location is in East Village, an area that has the highest concentration of Japanese establishments in Manhattan.

Cha-An

It is easy to pass right by Cha-An since it is perched on 2nd floor. But climb up the narrow stairway from the street, then you will find a small entrance hall to the dimly-lit beautiful tea house. The entrance hall is decorated with a Japanese door gate and bamboo plants, giving a special traditional feeling when discovering Cha-An at first time. With its nicely serene ambiance, Cha-An is an ideal place to spend a perfect afternoon, enjoying teas and desserts, and chatting the night away with friends and family. Despite its full crowd during the night, Cha-An’s atmosphere invites lingering, and customers are in no rush to vacate the precious tables.

Cha-An Bar

The highlights of Cha-An’s menu are the desserts and the wide variety of teas. Cha-An offers different types of black, green, oolong, pu-erh, white, and herbal teas, and also some additional special drinks like chai latte and matcha float. Each time I go there, I always sample a different tea. Each gives you a unique experience as they are prepared and served differently. A is fond of their Green Tea Matcha, the powdered green tea frequently served in traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Although it’s most expensive among all teas, their Matcha is of high quality and top grade, and tastes very good (even from a non expert standpoint). Having tasted many of their teas, I can confidently conclude that Cha-An’s teas are particularly picked for their high quality and fine taste.

Cha-An Teas

Cha-An Matcha

The menu for appetizers and entrees is fairly small. Three choices of set menus are available. We once ordered the popular Cha-An Set B, consisting of 15 grain rice, daily soup & vegetable, soy milk quiche with mushrooms & scallions, tea smoked salmon, dessert, and your choice of tea. The soy-based quiche is given as a starter, which is light, creamy and very savory. A likes the tea smoked salmon very much. A small dessert of chef’s choice is served at the end of the meal. Personally, I like their Afternoon Tea Set best, which is only available until 7pm. You will get a choice of tea, two kinds of small bagel sandwiches (one salmon and cream cheese sandwich, and one preserve and butter sandwich), baked scones, and assorted sweets. The scones taste very nice as they are freshly baked and still warm, but need 15-20 minutes to prepare. The other set menu that I haven’t tried but looks equally good is the Cha-An Set A, containing 15 grain rice porridge, 6 mini appetizers, dessert, and your choice of tea. Apart from the set menus, you can also order their appetizers individually. Also, please check their daily appetizer. When I was there once, they served delicious shrimp shumai and tofu dumplings.

Cha-An Scone Sweets and SandwichCha-An Set B

For desserts, I strongly recommend their Chocolate Mochi and Sakura Flan (not listed in the menu). The mochi has very soft and chewy rice cake exterior, with subtly sweet tea-infused dark chocolate filling. It is absurdly good. And A really loves the flan. He said that it’s the best dessert he’s ever eaten so far, which I also agree vehemently. I never thought it was made from a cherry blossom. The texture of the flan is very soft and smooth. Its taste has a perfect balance between lightness and richness. With the red beans on the side, it’s just so insanely lovely.

Cha-An MochiCha-An Sakura Flan

Also, a visit to the electronically-controlled restroom is as much of a must as the teas.

Doumo arigatou gozaimashita!

Cha An
230 East 9th Street. 2nd Fl.
New York, NY 10003
212.228.8030

15

In Love with Cinque Terre (Part 2)

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This is a continuation of the long post about the beautiful five small Italian villages on the Riviera coastline, called Cinque Terre.

As realizing that it was 5pm already, we then hurried to Riomaggiore’s Marina to catch a boat going from the easternmost village (Riomaggiore) to the westernmost village (Monterosso). The boat makes a stop at every village except Corniglia, the only village that is without water access as it is located at the top of the hill. This way, we could appreciate the superb views of the villages with their colorful houses and vineyards.

Riomaggiore and Manarola

We arrived at Monterosso around 5:30pm. Monterosso is probably the largest village in Cinque Terre. The village is divided into two parts: the old town and the new town, which both are separated by a tunnel that accommodates pedestrians and cars. We toured the village by walking, checked out some local shops, bought limone granita, and booked a table for two at Miky Ristorante for dinner that night. Some parts of the beach over there are for a private use and only a small portion is for public. It costs $10 per person just for sitting on a beach chair under umbrella that they provide. We really didn’t want to spend money for a beach chair, so we just opted to sit on a bench along the street and enjoyed the view of Ligurian Sea. Yeah… We are so “cheap”! Hehehe…

Corniglia and Vernazza

The place we had dinner at Monterosso, Miky Ristorante, is located on the main street of Monterosso with open veranda looking onto the beautiful sea. We ordered anchovies for appetizer. It was prepared in four different ways: stuffed, baked, fried and sliced raw anchovies marinated with herbs and oil. They were all fresh and good but I personally love the stuffed one best. For main entrée, we had mixed seafood baked pasta covered with thin pasta. We finished dinner late at night, we therefore had to rush to catch a train back to Vernazza.

The next day was started with a delicious breakfast at Il Pirata Caffe. The owners are very friendly and nice. They are twin brothers originally from Sicily. We had assorted pastry. For drink, A had chamomile tea and I had macchiato, my favorite.

That morning, we had one village that we had not visited yet. It was Corniglia that is located about 100-meter high up on a hill. We took a local train to go from Vernazza to Corniglia. After arriving at Corniglia train station, we were given two choices to go to the village: to climb a steep 377-step stairway, or to walk uphill following a vehicular road towards the village. We decided to take the second option to go to the village, which is farther distance wise but less tiring. And we picked the steep stairway as a route heading back to the train station later on. The clear blue sky, blue sea water, the colorful houses, the green vineyards and the sloping terraces altogether create the view from uphill absolutely stunning. Corniglia is the quietest village in Cinque Terre. It is less touristy and more peaceful. We spent our time leisurely by travelling around the village and enjoying desserts at local gelateria.


From Corniglia, we directly went back to Vernazza to have lunch before heading to Pisa. We walked around the Vernazza harbor trying to decide what to eat, and finally we picked to have focaccia breads to go. We went to sit at the marina, eating and enjoying the beautiful view of Vernazza. Focaccia is originated from the Liguria region, and according to Rick Steve’s guide, the best focaccia is made in the area between Cinque Terre and Genoa. I chose to have focaccia with basil pesto for the reason that this region is also the birthplace of pesto. Where else in the world I could have a better focaccia and pesto…

We left our hearts in Cinque Terre. We love this phenomenal place. Even now as I’m writing this blog, I keep asking myself many times: When can I go back there again? We really hope to return to Cinque Terre again in the future, of course with our new family member, Shiori! The stunning scenery, colorful houses, beautiful vineyards and fresh seafood are awaiting us…

18

Welcoming Shiori

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We are proud to announce that we just had our first baby girl, Shiori, who was born in last February. She is doing great and growing very fast. And I’m enjoying every moment of being a mom. So far, it’s been a lot of fun and a great experience. I’m sure there will be more fun to come!

Needless to say, my life with a new baby has been busy. I very rarely had outside eating and always had home-cooked food from January till March. I was in a “confinement” period for forty days after the delivery. During this time, I could not go outside unless for urgent matters such as seeing a doctor, and I could only eat specific food. Confinement practice is an old Chinese post-natal tradition focusing on re-energizing the body and boosting immunity. The new mom is generally expected to be in quarantine with her new baby. By adhering to a list of DOs and DON’Ts and following a restrictive diet, people believe that a new mom can recover faster and avoid some long-term potential health problems. I was being a good girl during the confinement period, staying at home, eating healthy food and focusing on taking care of Shiori and myself.

After the confinement period is over, now is the right time to enjoy living in NYC. Spring has come! Flowers are blooming and creating colorful sceneries of the city. This makes me fall into a deep love with the city. Now I spend most of my days walking around the city, tasting delicious food offered by the city. Of course, I do this with Shiori. She also enjoys travelling and sleeping soundly in her stroller bassinet. I’m really enjoying this beautiful weather in this great city as much as I can.

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