My Kerala Trip: Women Power Indeed

VanaMoolika is an interesting story indeed of women who work.

A roomful of women farmers came to meet us
A roomful of women farmers came to meet us

This is an organized group of women who lead other women to improve their lives and their families’ lives. I had a glimpse of how courageous and insightful they were when we met them the morning we arrived in VanaMoolika.
Paul gives a quick speech
Paul gives a quick speech

After a quick breakfast and shower, we assembled in the main hall where some Indian women were sitting shyly. They wore their finest sarees, each a colour more vibrant that the next. In no time, the blue plastic chairs were filled up. These women stared at us just as we stared at them. As guests, we had the honour of being seated in front of the hall, facing them.
These women represented 750 women farmers
These women represented 750 women farmers

When every woman representative had arrived, they stood up to sing a song. Though I didn’t understand a word, it sounded very calming and beautiful and seemed to give them strength. It was a prayer song.
I didn’t know how much they understood when we introduced ourselves. We must’ve looked and sounded strange to them. For a moment, I realized how far from Penang I was. To these women, Penang was just a word, not a place.
Women are often thought to be shy and quiet in accordance with our feminine nature. It isn’t true. A woman can speak her mind and be vocal, no matter what education one has had.
One by one, these women farmers were eager to pick up the microphone and tell us proudly what they’ve done, what they dream for and what they really need. They were quietly confident and ready to articulate with pride their work as herb farmers.
She stood up to tell us her success story
She stood up to tell us her success story

They were proud that their herb farming gave them a chance to raise their families and allowed them to contribute to their community. Although they spoke in their local language, one could sense the hopes they had for their own village and future. They had big dreams and why not? They knew they had to have better in life and farming herbs could be one way to reach those lofty dreams.
Paul with some of the women leaders
Paul with some of the women leaders

Their herbs are used to produce Ayurvedic medicines which are helping the sick. Besides medicines, their herbs are also used for beauty care, the natural way, without chemicals or synthetic materials.
VanaMoolika also runs a shop which sells its own brand of herbal powder shampoo, herbal hair oils, balms, facial masks, even organic pickled chilies and organic vanilla pods. All these are made based on the 5,000 year-old system of knowledge called Ayurveda. (Kerala is famous for its Ayurvedic treatments, hospitals and clinics. Good health, simple food and close family ties are incredibly important.)
I had travelled a long way and I found that women everywhere are the same.
We know what we want. Sometimes we have different means of getting what we want but in the end, it is still the same.
Women power indeed.
A salute to these courageous women farmers of VanaMoolika.

My Kerala Trip: Arriving in Bangalore, Day 1

Never in a million years would I think of going to India.
Not because I’m snooty or anything. It’s just that I wouldn’t know if I could survive Mother India, after all the stories I’ve heard about “don’t drink the water”, “don’t get ripped off by porters” etc. My best friend travelled to India many years ago and she told me that they had to do their toilet business somewhere in some bushes, covered only by opened umbrellas!
So I didn’t really have that much expectation when Nic and I went to Kerala, India recently with our client, the team and management of Paul Penders Co. We were invited to tag along as they were doing a feasibility tour of a new business they intend to embark on in the state of Kerala.
I wasn’t even excited. I was thinking, OK, this is for work. Hopefully I won’t get dysentery or some stomach bug.

Paul and his team ready to get off the plane at Bangalore
Paul and his team ready to get off the plane at Bangalore

The AirAsia flight from KL to Bangalore took 4 hours. The thing is, we travelled to the west so we gained time. Though we left KL at 3.05pm and the plane actually took off much later (after some dawdling on the runway), we arrived in the ultra-modern Bengaluru Airport about 6pm India time. Bengaluru is the local name for Bangalore. For our Malaysian stomachs, it was 8.30pm and we were thinking of dinner.
Inside Bangalore Airport, before the arduous form-filling!
Inside Bangalore Airport, before the arduous form-filling!

Before we could exit the airport, we had to fill in the immigration forms. I felt a bit peeved because the form asked for so many details. Fortunately the Indian customs officers are not as rude or curt as the HK ones.
Have to fill up the Incredible India arrival card!
Have to fill up the Incredible India arrival card!

It was here that we met an Indian national who had completed his work contract in Malaysia. He was smart; he heard us speak BM and pounced on us in a friendly way. He wanted me to help him fill in his entry form because he was illiterate.
More forms to fill before they let you get out of the airport
More forms to fill before they let you get out of the airport

Anyway, what with the form filling and etc, we finally got out of the airport and Joji and Jegan, our Indian hosts for the one-week trip welcomed us with fresh roses. So there we were, a huge group of different nationalities – Dutch, Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian. We were going to be travel mates for the next 6 days, exploring the Ayurvedic-herbal route.
According to Joji, we were going to travel in a convoy of 4 Toyota Innova’s from Bangalore to this place called VanaMoolika in Wayanad district, Kerala where we would be staying for 3 days.
What we didn’t know was the car journey from Bangalore to Wayanad was going to take 6 hours. In the end, we found out that it is possibly 6 hours if the roads are like our PLUS highways. On Indian roads which are pot-holed and narrow and in some places, without adequate street lights, the journey took us 12 hours!
(At this point, I am glad we gobbled our ‘dinner’ aboard AirAsia. A travel tip: Eat first if possible. One never knows how long some journeys are. It is better to eat dinner twice than not to have one at all. Even going by local time, we figured we would arrive in VanaMoolika at midnight. Someone said there was going to be a feast for us! By Malaysian time, that would be 3am. Could I even eat at that hour?)
As we left the airport, we headed straight into the city and by that time, it was the evening rush hour where people were getting off work. Jegan, who sat in our car, told us that some 27 million people lived and worked in Bangalore. That’s like the entire Malaysian population in one city.
The most eye-opening experience for me was the fact that honking is very much a driver’s pleasure and pastime. The second was their utter disregard for traffic. Cars, autos (resembling tuk-tuk’s in Thailand), lorries, buses and animals all wove their way on the roads, honking, swerving and driving too close to each other. I didn’t know if it was our driver who drove badly or the traffic was horrible but the start and stop jerks of our Toyota Innova made Hong car-sick.
The third eye-opening experience was everywhere is your personal rubbish bin. When Hong puked into a plastic bag, she was gripping tightly to it and told us she was going to throw it at our next toilet stop. Our Indian guide told her to wind down the car window and chuck it out of the car! (Over the next few days, I found out that it is so hard to locate a rubbish bin. You see people throwing rubbish everywhere!)
The Atria Hotel where we stopped for tea
The Atria Hotel where we stopped for tea

Finally our Indian hosts decided to make a quick stop at a local hotel so we could go for our toilet break and have some tea and snacks before the really long car journey. I thought, “OK, this is where we get some food!” By then we had all but digested our airplane food.
A quick stop at the hotel coffeeshop for samosas and tea
A quick stop at the hotel coffeeshop for samosas and tea

They still insisted that we would be having our ‘dinner’ some 5 hours later so some snacks would be good. In the end, we really had tiny morsels of food, samosas which were tasty but too small to make a dent in our tummies. Luckily I downed it all with a cup of masala chai, a very silky smooth milk tea scented with cardamom.
We packed ourselves back into the Toyota, bracing ourselves for the next 5 hours.
To be continued….

What Are You Feeding Your Skin?

Business is a great teacher – and because I am in the business where I get to talk to a variety of people, I learn a variety of stuff too.
For instance, what are you feeding your skin?
No, I don’t mean the food you eat, though that counts too.
I know I am big on makeup and cosmetics. I mean, which girl or woman isn’t? I started out with Avon cosmetics because my bestie’s mom was selling this when I was a 10 year old girl. We used to try on Avon lipsticks and lip balms at her home. Then of course came other brands such as Maybelline and ZA because as teenage girls, we couldn’t afford the high-end stuff like Estee Lauder or Shiseido.
Now that I am 35, I suddenly am worried that all those years, I didn’t know what I was feeding my skin with!
You see, working with an organic skincare company means that I get to educate myself more and what I learnt is frightening! (I help guide them to blog and teach them all I know. This is a great learning experience for me too as the more I teach, the more I know what I didn’t know before!)
Frightening because all these years, I have been feeding my skin utter rubbish.
For instance, did you know that most companies touting certified organic does not mean what you think it means? Certified organic does not mean it is natural. I know this sounds mind-boggling but it is true. It is a marketing ploy as more people are concerned over their health. So if I see ‘certified organic’, it must be all natural and all organic and all safe right?
As excerpted from February’s monthly newsletter from Paul Penders Company, here is what ‘certified organic’ really means:
The “certified organic” ingredients in such products are more often than not simply coal tar-derived or anilines – poisonous substances that have been linked to cancer. In the U.S., in fact, some “certified organic” colors may not be used around the eyes because the FDA believes that they are dangerous to the skin. Other “certified organic” ingredients have been linked to cancer.
So what’s the alternative? What you should be looking out for is inorganic colors in cosmetics. Again, I am no expert in this area so I quote the newsletter: Inorganic colours are derived from natural sources (e.g. clay, carbon deposits, mica and silica) or are simply synthesized. Inorganic colors do not have health risks as “certified organic” colors and therefore do not require certification.
Also did you know that you have harmful chemicals in your shampoos? Dubai has banned some 17 shampoos which contain Dioxane 1.4 which is a carcinogenic agent. Worse, Himalaya Herbal – one of my fave shampoos – is one of those banned shampoo brands! Yikes. I always thought the Himalaya Herbal range was pretty good.
So these days if you see me without lipstick, you know why. Coz I am freaking scared of ingesting cancer-causing agents!
How about you? Are you worried about what’s inside your cosmetics and skincare?

Giving Tummy A Holiday

Langkawi is always a good getaway from the busy-ness and business of Penang for a while. Even if I do visit clients when I’m on that little island.
But I’m back.
I got back on Sunday evening, just in time to catch the first night F1 race that was held in Singapore. Of course, the race was full of dramatic events, race cars crashing to the side, Ferrari running off with the petrol hose stuck to its behind, lollipop men not making appearances, strange stuff. I thought Singapore was jinxed. Much as I detest saying this (I’m Malaysian OK and most Malaysians have this love-hate relationship with Singapore), I think that little island state has created much success and anticipation for this night race.
Which means Sepang F1 has to really up its standard.
The whole of this week was really short – since yesterday and today are technically public holidays due to Hari Raya Aidilfitri. So there are just 3 days to the week.
But the moment I got back from Langkawi and the moment I got into the office, it’s like super speed work all the way. I’m sure most of my pals are sick and tired of me going “Busy” each time they IM me. Sorry la folks. This week’s been crazy. *embarrassed*
So I was mighty happy to have a bit of a rest with the Raya holidays. And catch my breath. I spent all of yesterday doing nothing remotely business-like.
I took off for a long lunch with Vern at Island Red Cafe at Krystal Point. That place reminds me too much of Old Town Kopitiam. It’s awful to be a copycat of a more bustling eatery. The food was slow in reaching our table and we had to remind them that they still owed us our 2 chicken chops.
I heard from my sis that it’s a franchise. The place has sofas and PCs with Internet access. It attracted quite a crowd but again, it could be that Penangites love the kopi tiam concept. (My sis says the food is a lot cheaper than Old Town. Hence, it attracts frugal Penangites. Maybe.)
Later that evening, I popped by my Grandma’s to meet up with my parents and sis for some vegetarian dinner. My sis is observing the Nine Emperor God Festival (which is a major festival in Penang). This means absolute vegetarian fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. She doesn’t really end it with prayers at the temple (that’s what most people do) but it’s a habit she can’t shake off. Good for her, really, as I think we often eat too much meat anyway. A week of vegetarian fare is kinder to the stomach and body (I went over to Than Hsiang Temple for lunch today. Even packed home their cottony-soft pau’s for tea.)
So yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing these few days. After the luxurious feasting in Langkawi (I was at The Loaf and at SunSutra, and if Wan Thai was open – it’s wasn’t – I would’ve had some Thai foo too), a little bit of vegetarianism does do me a lot of good.
Gives my tummy a rest.
Are you stuffing yourself with rendang and ketupat and lemang or are you giving your tummy a rest too?