Japan

Last month Gareth and I went on our honeymoon to Japan. It was quite a while to wait, but after all the events of the previous year it was good to have a wee break, and then the best time for us to travel next was in April. This worked out perfectly for Japan and cherry blossom season.
2016-04-12 Tokyo

We got to Tokyo on a Monday morning, and were met by a rep from the travel company, who helped us purchase our Japan Rail passes and got our inter-city train journeys booked for the rest of our trip. The JR pass is available only to foreign tourists, and lets you ride on any of the main Japan Rail lines across the country, which also includes a circular route within Tokyo – very handy! Our first ride on the bullet train from the airport into Tokyo was very exciting, and we saw our first Japanese cherry blossoms whizzing by.

In the evening we headed out and got a little more familiarised with our subway station, Shimbashi, which is quite a major interchange station, and has practically a district of underground walkways and shops. We then headed out to Ginza to admire the bright lights of the city.
2016-04-11 Tokyo
2016-04-11 Tokyo

We wandered around for some time and were keeping an eye out for somewhere to eat, and then we happened upon a little izakaya (quite like a pub – for eating as well as drinking). This one seemed to be a jazz bar, and specialised in kushiyaki and yakitori (grilled meat/veg skewers and grilled chicken skewers), which were so delicious. At 9 the kitchen closed and the live music started up; the singer and pianist were good but we were so tired and jet lagged that we soon headed back.
Collage Tokyo 01

The Shimbashi and Shiodome area, where we were staying, is about a couple of stops away from the main city centre areas. It’s is still quite busy, full of commuters going into the city in the mornings – whom we affectionately referred to as the black and white army of Tokyo (they really like their neutral coloured workwear) – and returning again in the evening rush hour.
2016-04-13 Tokyo
Even the alleyways are full of restaurants

One of the most brightly lit places in Shiodome is the Pachinko centre. We’d heard about Pachinko (Japanese equivalent of slot machines) and seen it everywhere, so after a couple of days in Tokyo we ventured into our ‘local’ centre in Shiodome. It’s a huge pastime in Japan, so we had to have a go. We didn’t really get how it worked, even though we were given an instruction booklet in English especially for tourists, but it was all very cute and full of themed animated characters – even the burly gentleman a little way down from us was listening intently to what the pink dolphin was saying on his machine. We messed about for a little bit, but soon gave up the dream of winning even a stuffed toy, and moved on.
2016-04-13 Tokyo

That was just the start of our trip, where we spent the first five days in Tokyo, with a day trip to Nikko; the next two days in Hakone; and the final five days in Kyoto, with day trips to Nara and Himeji. We visited many temples, shrines, historic buildings, beautiful gardens; ate SO MUCH AMAZING FOOD; got our fill of manga, anime, and kawaii (cute) things; learned about Japanese history and culture; and had a wonderful time. I can’t wait to tell you more about it over the next several posts.

Say cherry blossom!
2016-04-12 Tokyo

Springtime in the garden and Dinnet

A couple of weeks ago it finally started feeling like Springtime, and it was lovely to be out in the garden, admiring what’s coming up and planting out new things.
Gareth’s been doing a lot of ‘landscaping’ work over the last couple months, which we can now really enjoy.

We’ve got a nice little fenced off flower bed, with perennials coming up nicely.
2016-05-08 Garden

Meanwhile, the bottom half of the garden is much easier to look after now. The lupins have been moved down here and are free to grow nice and big without it feeling like a jungle.
2016-05-08 Garden

And this is the bit I’m most proud of. Earlier in the year Gareth cleared out the plants (and dug up a bush with huge roots!) from this section. We then put down paving stones, creating the perfect spot for this lovely bench, which was a wedding present from a group of our friends. We finally have somewhere to sit in the garden when the weather’s good.
2016-05-08 Garden

And over in the front the tulips really looked like they were enjoying the sunshine.
2016-05-08 Garden

This weekend we headed out to Deeside, and after a nice lunch in Aboyne we went to Muir of Dinnet to burn off our cake.
We walked along the Parkin’s Moss Trail, and caught a glimpse of Loch Kinord through pretty silver birches.
2016-05-14 Muir of Dinnet

There was some alien looking fungi on them – although after coming home and googling it, their real name, hoof fungi, does seem a more suitable description.
2016-05-14 Muir of Dinnet

Gareth also spotted a little eel – it was about a foot long.
2016-05-14 Muir of Dinnet

The boggy bits weren’t very wet yet at this time of year, but the trees over here had such vibrant foliage.
2016-05-14 Muir of Dinnet

2016-05-14 Muir of Dinnet

The blazing yellow gorse and broom were out in force everywhere.
2016-05-14 Muir of Dinnet

A silver birch as we head towards the end of the trail.
2016-05-14 Muir of Dinnet

Our weddings – KL

A couple of months after getting married in Aberdeen we had a Hindu wedding ceremony in Kuala Lumpur. This is the sort of thing I’ve grown up with, so I was thrilled that Gareth and his parents were on board for this and my parents were up for organising it.

As Hindu weddings go there were several events involved, and ours were fairly typical for Hindus of Sri Lankan Tamil ethnicity.
KL - 2015-09-26 - Wedding

First up, the ponnurukku, or gold-melting ceremony, which took place a week before the wedding. This revolves around the groom, and is usually held in the groom’s family home, but for our purposes it was in my home.
KL - 2015-09-19 - Ponnurukku

During this ceremony a piece of gold is given a ‘first melt’ by a traditional goldsmith and blessed by the family. The goldsmith then takes away the gold piece to form a pendant called a thali, which is a key part of the wedding ceremony.
KL - 2015-09-19 - Ponnurukku

In the second half of the ceremony a cutting from a tree (called murukka maram in Tamil) is planted and blessed by married women of the groom and bride’s family. The planting and the tree itself symbolise new beginning, life, growth, and the couple’s marriage.
KL - 2015-09-19 - Ponnurukku

Next up was the mehndi (henna) evening, which revolves around the bride, and took place two days before the wedding. This is originally a North Indian practice, but has been adopted by many South Indian brides, and I was very much looking forward to it. Traditionally this is a women-only event – a chance for the bride to spend time with her female friends and relatives before going away to live with her husband (perhaps an early form of hen party). In our case everyone was invited, and it was another evening of catching up with friends and family before the wedding.

I had a henna artist to myself, while another artist did designs for others.
KL - 2016-09-24 Mehndi
Photos by Gareth

KL - 2015-09-24 - Mehndi
Photos by Gareth

KL - 2015-09-26 - Wedding
Photo on the left by my friend Felicity

And then it was the big day. There are various roles which are performed by specific family members (a married sister, maternal uncles, etc.), but often cousins and other relatives or friends are called upon to take up these roles too. Likewise, as Gareth didn’t have many of his family down in KL, some of my relatives were assigned to his family and performed roles relevant to the groom.

Our ceremony took place at the auditorium of the Temple of Fine Arts. On arrival Gareth has his feet washed by the tholan (male companion), my cousin Ashwin, who then receives a ring for his efforts. They are blessed as they enter and make their way to the wedding hall.
KL - 2015-09-26 - Wedding

KL - 2015-09-26 - Wedding

I was away backstage and didn’t get to see any of this, but soon it was time for me to join the ceremony. My cousin Sarah, the tholi (female companion) leads me in.
KL - 2015-09-26 - Wedding

KL - 2015-09-26 - Wedding

There are many, many rituals that the priest performs, which include interaction with the couple, their parents, and their relatives. For any Hindu person participating in a marriage ceremony the numerous little actions that the priest instructs them to carry out can be a little confusing, but are generally based on familiar temple rituals. However, for a non-Hindu person it must be entirely bewildering, but Gareth and my in-laws, helped along by our relatives, did a brilliant job of it all.
KL - 2015-09-26 - Wedding

The main part of the ceremony is when Gareth places the gold thali necklace on me and dots red kunkumam powder on my forehead, and we then exchange garlands. By Hindu definitions we are now definitely married.
KL - 2015-09-26 - Wedding

After more rituals to finish off the ceremony we receive blessings and good wishes from everyone (blessings involve showers of rice and flower petals!).
KL - 2015-09-26 - Wedding

KL - 2015-09-26 - Wedding
KL - 2015-09-26 - Wedding

Once again we were lucky to have family and friends from various locations with us. Our visiting group were keen to participate in these traditions, our local crowd were entirely welcoming and enthusiastic about sharing our culture with the visitors, and everyone was just happy to support us and get to know each other as well.

None of this would’ve happened without the support of both our families, but my parents in particular put in so much hard work in organising the ceremonies and coordinating with us remotely across different timezones (and different opinions!). My brother Vigna’s wedding also took place the previous week, so there really was LOTS going on for our family. And as with anything that’s so important to everybody, we certainly had disagreements, and sometimes it all got a bit too much and tempers flared. But however bad our quarrels are they’re always fleeting; in the end everything happened as it was supposed to, with nothing but love and joy.

The following evening we had a small dinner reception. Being Malaysian we had to mix things up a little, and as we’re both big fans of Chinese food, a delicious Chinese banquet was a lovely way to end our celebrations.
KL - 2015-09-27 - Reception

KL - 2015-09-27 - Reception

It turned out that our reception fell on the evening of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. I’ve written about mooncake and this festival, both of which I’ve always loved, so I was thrilled to have a tower of mooncake at our reception (Gareth likes mooncake too, just not as much as I do…).
KL - 2015-09-27 - Reception

There are so many more details that just can’t practically be covered here, but they all contributed to a wonderful whole, and like our Aberdeen wedding each little thing often had a connection to somebody or something which made it special. In the end having two weddings wasn’t easy, but it was always the natural choice for us. People have asked which wedding was my favourite, and I honestly couldn’t choose.

Our KL wedding was very much an expression of my culture and traditions that have been a big part of my life, and while my husband has always been great about opening himself up to my Malaysian world, this took it to a whole new level. Gareth wasn’t just a bystander though, he was involved in a lot of the planning, and made clear what he was and wasn’t comfortable with. He enjoyed the experience and is proud to have it as part of his life too.

Our Aberdeen wedding, on the other hand, involved traditions that have been part of Gareth’s life and that I’m familiar with, but it was also very much an expression of us as individuals and as a couple. Both taught us a lot about each other and ourselves, and deepened our bonds with our families.

0243 DSC_2311

 
 
All original images by Kronoz Photography unless stated otherwise.

Our weddings – Aberdeen

It seems like the last two years has been all about weddings, especially with Gareth and me having two! Now that it’s been about 6 months since it was all over, I definitely don’t miss all the planning and logistics and billions of emails, but it’s been really nice to look through all our photos, and to look back at some wonderful experiences.

To begin with, we had a civil marriage ceremony in Aberdeen. It was book-themed; nothing epic (just google literary weddings!), but simple touches that appeal to our bookish sides. The ceremony was in Drum Castle, in the library, and we used these quotes in the invitations and order of service.

Aberdeen - 2016-01-02

We chose purple, green, and white colours, and my bridesmaids and I carried bouquets tied onto our favourite books.
Aberdeen - 2015-07-11

Gareth and the men in the bridal party wore Spirit of Scotland tartan ties, with buttonholes that we made the day before. In addition to lavender and baby’s breath, which were in the bouquets, Gareth’s buttonhole had wheat, as he works on cereal crops, his best man Sam had heather from our garden, as he used to work on heather, and our fathers and brothers had rosemary and thyme, also from our garden.

Aberdeen - 2015-07-11
Aberdeen - 2015-07-11

Here we are, getting ready to enter. My cousin’s two daughters and Gareth’s brother’s daughter were flower girls, and my friends Lex and Judith were my brilliant bridesmaids.
Aberdeen - 2015-07-11

Aberdeen - 2015-07-11

During the ceremony my friend Emily provided the main music on violin, our friends Mike and Sarah performed a piece on flute and melodeon, and we had readings by my brother Vigna and our friend Graeme.
Aberdeen - 2015-07-11

Our mums were our two witnesses for the registration.
Aberdeen - 2015-07-11

And then we were outside and celebrating with everyone.
Aberdeen - 2015-07-11

Aberdeen - 2015-07-11

It was an amazingly sunny day, and the gardens at Drum Castle were just beautiful.
Aberdeen - 2015-07-11

We then headed out to the next venue, the Doubletree Hilton, and since it’s by the beach…
Aberdeen - 2015-07-11

For the meal, we named the tables after some of our favourite books, and used them as centrepieces. I’d also been crocheting little hearts, which we strung on to the back of each of the mini easels – you can just about see a purple one peeking out behind My Family and Other Animals.
Aberdeen - 2015-07-11

The favours for guests were little notebooks, and we had bundles of handsome vintage books dotted around the room (great eBay finds).
Aberdeen - 2015-07-11
Aberdeen - 2015-07-11

The cake was made by my friend Kimmy – Victoria sponge, with white chocolate buttercream and edible flowers.
Aberdeen - 2015-07-11

Then it was time for the ceilidh. Our band was It’s No Reel, and they kept the crowd going with great tunes.
Aberdeen - 2015-07-11

And all too soon it was all over and time to say goodbye. It was such a magical day, made so very special by our family and friends.
 
 
All original images by Steven Bedford Photography

International Women’s Day 2016

2016-03-07 Books by female writers

In keeping with last year’s literary theme, I’m celebrating female writers today.
The past year was pretty packed for me so reading time suffered, but here are some books by women that I’ve very much enjoyed.

We are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler
It’s hard to describe this story without giving away too much, but it delves into family relationships, communication, society, finding your identity – told from the point of view of a girl growing up with psychologist parents. A pick from my book club.

Half Bad and Half Wild – Sally Green
Young adult fantasy, dealing with segregation, societal expectations, and coming of age amongst witches. Classic witchy, magicky stuff in a very contemporary setting (they carry mobile phones, use the internet, and deal with local authority bureaucracy). Really quite gripping reads, and the final book of the trilogy, Half Lost, is out later this month.

The Invisible Library – Genevieve Cogman
Librarian spies from a mysterious Library hunt down books from alternate worlds, and here they investigate goings on in a steampunk London. A good, fun read.

I plan to slowly work my way through Penguin’s Little Black Classics, and my reads so far include:
A Pair of Silk Stockings – Kate Chopin, and
The Old Nurse’s Story – Elizabeth Gaskell
Kate Chopin’s tales are gritty and hauntingly sad, while Elizabeth Gaskell’s two stories are gothic chillers – very much unlike her more familiar stories, but just as intriguing.

As expected, my “to read” list is one I could keep adding to forever, so I shall just share my Pinterest board for books instead, which I think is quite female heavy.

Finally, here’s something to look out for today:
The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for fiction longlist will be announced, followed by the shortlist in April, and the winner in June.

Happy International Women’s Day!