Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happy New Year 2016!

 

"For I know the plans I have for you", declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11



2015 is the year I found a true home in Singapore.  As the country celebrated her SG50 Jubilee Year, I marked several major milestones on my journey to becoming Singaporean.  From the citizenship ceremony in January, to voting for the first time in September, to collecting keys to my own HDB apartment in December, it has been a truly remarkable year. 

Some other highlights include:
  • Completing a career break from January to June 2015, which allowed me to travel extensively to meet family and friends, as well as explore the world of technology start-ups in Singapore.  It was inspiring to meet so many smart, energetic young people who are out to make a difference.  They were generous in sharing their vision, teaching me about new technology,  patiently listening to my old war stories, and open-minded when collaborating to solve real world problems.  Very privileged to be mentoring some of the most promising Singaporean entrepreneurs in this space.
  • Starting a new role in Mercer, which specializes in HR Consulting.  It's good to be back in the heart of the CBD with lovely offices overlooking Marina Bay.  After spending the last 12 years in corporate roles, it's very interesting to be able to study the latest research and trends in the world of HR and think about where my future contributions will be.  Especially keen to explore developments in the area of the aging workforce and Uber-ization of the workforce.
  • A dream trip to Japan in spring to see cherry blossoms in bloom. Those beautiful moments will continue to feed my soul for many years to come.
  • Welcoming so many people to Singapore including my parents, my best friends - the Chattertons, my godkids and other amazing individuals I'm privileged to call my friends


For me, this year has been filled with much grace, blessing and answered prayers.  I can only conclude that His plans have indeed given me much hope and a future - in a world that has also seen too many dark moments. And I pray that you and your loved ones will continue to enjoy the best of what's in store next year.

 

HAVE A WONDERFUL 2016!


Sunday, May 31, 2015

How it all began

Thanks to my Daddy's job, I got my first taste of life on the road at the age of 11.  We left the sweltering heat of KL, flew via Singapore and Abu Dhabi, and landed in Copenhagen in the middle of winter. Took the hovercraft to Malmö and then a train to Gothenburg. That one trip has shaped my life ever since. 


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Inspiration from Japan

Sharing some of the most enduring images in my mind from the recent trip to Japan in March/April 2015.

Collage of cherry blossoms against the bright blue skies over Kyoto (by Joanna Yeoh)


Collage of sakura trees along Philosopher's Walk in north Kyoto (by Joanna Yeoh)


First view of Mt Fuji from Lake Ashinoko in Hakone (by Joanna Yeoh)


Magnificent Mt Fuji (by Joanna Yeoh)



Ancient cedar woods around Lake Ashi (by Joanna Yeoh)


Ancient bamboo forests in Arashiyama, west Kyoto (by Joanna Yeoh)


Close-up of cherry blossoms (by Joyce Cheam)


Colourful kois (by Joyce Cheam)



Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Japan Travel Itinerary - Spring 2015

I had a wonderful time visiting Japan again this spring during the cherry blossom season, and shared the experience real-time via Facebook.  This triggered a host of requests from my friends, asking me to share the itinerary of my recent visit.  Which I'm very happy to do now via this post.

First and foremost, I must thank my wonderful travel companions, Li Ki and Joyce, for all the fun, laughter, patience and hairy moments that come with travelling overseas on our own - especially when we don't speak the language.  I love that we used our strengths to the max!


(L-R) Joyce, Joanna and Li Ki

Now for our travel itinerary…

1) Tokyo (3 days)

Hotel:  Prince Hotel in Shinjuku.  Only 10 minutes walk from the Shinjuku Station which was super convenient to get around Tokyo, and beyond via Shinkansen (bullet train)

Shopping:  Shinjuku is THE shopping mecca in Tokyo with all the major department stores having their flagship outlets here.  I liked Isetan and Mitsui OIOI best.  The range of cosmetics stores was surprisingly limited in Shinjuku.  Head to Harajuku for a dose of cosplay and shopping bargains.  The 5-storey Daiso store there has an interesting range of affordable household gadgets and souvenirs.



Cherry Blossom spots:  Ueno Park is a lovely spot to see the flowers in bloom.  While it was extremely crowded, everyone was relatively well-behaved.  People tend to move along without blocking others from viewing the cherry blossoms.  Lots of cafes and restaurants around Ueno Station for bentos, coffees and ice cream.


Surprise Find:  Roof Garden on Level 8 of Isetan flagship store in Shinjuku.

There's a huge food hall in the basement of Isetan with an amazing range of affordable Japanese and international food - everything from sushi, sashimi, tempura, yakitori, salads, croquette to French pastries, Chinese dim sum, Indian curries and Italian pasta.  We bought our lunch from the food hall and went up to the roof garden for a picnic feast.

Don't be put off by the lift that only goes up to Level 7.  Climb that one flight of stairs to the roof garden.  It's worth it!


2)  Hakone (2 days)

Hotel:  Hotel Okada is comfortable with a choice of western beds or Japanese tatami for sleep.  Choose the tatami.  Opt for the catered Japanese dinners, which are delicious and come in extremely large portions. Every set has 2 main courses with 6 dishes each.   Might want to consider sharing 2 sets between 3-4 adults because we couldn't finish our individual sets.  Breakfast is so-so.


Hakone is one of the best places from which to view Mt Fuji.  This was taken at Lake Ashi.

Getting to and around Hakone is super easy if you get the all-in Hakone Free Pass from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo.  Go to the international travel counter at Odakyu Shopping Centre next to Shinjuku Station and they will sort you out.

The Hakone Free Pass by Odakyu Railways is a special pass for exploring Hakone, and includes: 
1) One round trip from the Tokyo area to Hakone by Odakyu Railways, unless you purchase the pass inside the free area, e.g. at Odawara, Hakone-Yumoto or Mishima Stations. 
2) Unlimited use of Odakyu affiliated buses, trains, boats, cablecars and ropeways within the Hakone free area. 
3) Discounted admission to selected tourist attractions. 

Hakone Free Pass (as of April 1, 2014)
2-day pass
3-day pass
From Shinjuku Station 
5,140 yen 
5,640 yen 
Purchased inside the free area
(e.g. Odawara Station) 
4,000 yen 
4,500 yen 
Reduced rates (almost 75%) apply for children. 


3) Kyoto (3 days)


Ryokan (Inn) : Kikokuso is the ONLY place I'd stay in Kyoto.  The Yoshimura family has owned the inn for four generations and the level of hospitality is sublime.  We stayed with the family in 2013 and it was the highlight of our trip!  Grandma Yoshimura literally squealed in delight when she saw us again this time.

Book early to get the room with ensuite bathroom.  The other rooms with shared bathroom facilities are good too.


Cherry Blossom Viewing:  For my favourite spots, read this blog post.





With Grandma and Grandpa Yoshimura outside Kikokuso


Food:  You MUST try the keiseki (imperial set) dinner at Kikosuko.  It will be the most beautiful and delicious meal of your entire trip.  Mrs Yoshimura is so beautiful and graceful in her kimono, you will be thoroughly spoilt by her hospitality.


Honke Owariya is one of the oldest soba shops in Japan, dating from 1465 - when Kyoto was the royal capital.  The set lunches are reasonably priced and the cold soba is delicious.  There are 2 branches and we've tried both.  I think the original one is better.

From there, you can walk to Nishiki Market which has a good array of Japanese foods for sale.  Good place to pick up tea, seaweed condiments and Japanese pickles. A little touristy but still worth a visit.  Lots of macha (green tea) desserts to try.


4) Osaka (1 day)




Osaka is just a 30-minute train ride from Kyoto so it's easy to do a day trip.  If you're flying from Kansai Airport in Osaka, you can store your luggage in the lockers at the train station and see the city in a day before heading to the airport.

Shopping/Sightseeing:  Dotonburi is the place to see and be seen.  If nothing else, come and take a photo with the giant crab.  The other shop signs are quite outlandish too.


Food:  The only reason we come to Osaka is for the food, especially okonomiyaki, which is a delicious egg omelette stuffed with seafood, pork and vegetables.  Mizuno in Dotonburi is very popular and rightly so.  They cook the okonomiyaki on a grill right at your table, and it takes every ounce of willpower to wait for the food to cook and avoid drooling.  Just keep yourselves occupied by taking lots of photos!

For fans of takoyaki (grilled octopus balls), you'd be happy to know that the dish originated in Osaka too.  I'm told the stall opposite Mizuno is quite good (sorry - I don't like the taste of takoyaki so I really can't vouch for any vendor)

Market:  Try Kuromon Market for an authentic experience of a Japanese market.  Lots of fresh fruit, sushi, sashimi and Japanese pastries to try.  I personally found it more authentic than Nishiki Market in Kyoto and the stallholders seemed friendlier too.  Iburi Coffee House is a cute little 1920's art deco shop serving great coffee, hot chocolate and waffles.  This market totally rocks because they provide a large seating area for tourists to eat their takeaway meals while enjoying FREE WIFI.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Sakura Springtime

What an absolute delight it is to experience Japan during the sakura (cherry blossom) season!  We were so blessed to arrive at all the main attractions just as the flowers came into full bloom, and experienced perfect springtime weather.

Here's are my three favourite Hanami (flower-viewing) spots:

1) Philosopher's Walk, Kyoto *

This is a beautiful path along a canal lined with hundreds of cherry blossom trees.  It's a 2km walk from Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) to Nanzenji that's so breathtakingly beautiful, it's almost surreal.  It was so hard to just put down the camera for a minute and take in the splendour of the moment:  the pink blossoms against the blue skies juxtaposed against the natural green plants that lined the canal.







2)  Gardens at Tenryu-ji Temple, Arashiyama (Kyoto) *

The Tenryu-ji temple was established in 1339 by shogun Ashikaga Takauji, and presided over by the eminent Zen master Muso Soseki.  This is a World Heritage Site and there's a 500yen fee to get into the gardens, which I highly recommend because the cascading cherry blossoms create walls of fragrant pink flowers every where you turn!  I'm told the autumn scenes are equally stunning.







3) Around Hakone *

Hakone is an area famous for its hot springs, located about 100km away from Tokyo.  The mountains, bridges and streams provide a very pretty backdrop to the cherry blossoms that dot the landscape.


Photo courtesy of Khaw Li Ki, which was taken on a moving bus.  Well done Seester!



* Please click on the individual links for more travel ideas and information from Japan-Guide.Com

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fuji-san

Mount Fuji - the beautiful mountain that has inspired so much of Japanese art and literature.

Very grateful to have seen it in all its splendour from the Hakone Ropeway, and managed to snap these amazing shots with my humble iPhone6.

Enjoy…






Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy New Year 2015!





"And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" - Philippians 4:19
This is the promise that came to me early in 2014 and has been fulfilled in the most marvellous ways this year.  I am writing this annual newsletter in New Delhi after a dream holiday with my best friends, the Chattertons. Christmas is the perfect time to reflect and be grateful for all the blessings enjoyed this year.
  • 2014 got off to a roaring start with a family reunion in California.  Daddy and Julie jointly celebrated their birthdays for the first time in many years, and the Yeohs ushered in the Year of the Horse with friends in Julie's Citrus Heights home
  • Visited the US three times this year.  Fell in love with a beautiful place called Pacific Grove on the northern California coast in winter.  Enjoyed it so much I went back in late spring to vist Monterey and Carmel as well.  The mountains around Lake Tahoe provided more inspiration in the fall
  • One of my career highlights this year was a visit to LinkedIn's headquarters in Mountain View, as part of a global group of customer advocates.  The time spent in Silicon Valley and a fireside chat with Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn's co-founder, about "tours of duty" motivated me to wrap up my role at SingPost in July, and take a career break to recharge
  • The wonderful thing about a career break is the opportunity for more leisurely travel to catch up with friends I haven't seen in the longest time!  A big thank you to Selina (Penang), Ian (KL), Martin and Tariq (London), Kathleen (LA) , the Chattertons (New Delhi) and my sister Julie who have been such gracious hosts to me this year
  • Spent my birthday in London with Martin and Tariq, two wonderful friends from my MBA days.  It was quite a homecoming being back in the UK after 14 years. Visited the Kentish coast and Canterbury  as well
  • Ending the year on a high note with a tour of India. Till now, Taj Mahal, Rajasthan, Old Delhi have only been figments of my imagination, and to be able to experience them personally has been such a treat!  Even more wonderful, are the new friends I've made while in New Delhi. 
While I have chosen to focus on the positives from 2014, I'm also reminded of the heartbreak in the shape of airline disasters, epidemics, terrorism and wars and I ask you to join me in a silent prayer for those who have gone before their time, and for sanity to return soon.  

Despite this, I am still very excited to see what 2015 will bring. It is another year for us to celebrate life, family and friendships.  To become all that we were created to be.  

And so to all my friends, old and new, I wish you all the best for a fruitful and blessed 2015.


Blessed Christmas and Happy 2015!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ode to Love

The magnificent Taj Mahal

I finally saw the Taj Mahal in Agra - one of the seven wonders of the world.  It is breathtakingly beautiful. 

Aunty Jojo @ the Diana Seat

This mausoleum was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jehan in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal who died in 1631.  An ode to love - is what I've heard it described as, many times. Though in my humble opinion, any woman who has 14 children in a 19-year marriage totally deserves a monument built in her honour.  Just saying.

Yes, Aunty Jojo is perfectly capable of capturing cheesy tourist photos!

The Taj Mahal took 22 years to complete and almost emptied the treasury of the Mughal empire, with all the marble and precious stones that were required for its completion.  In the end, Shah Jehan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and imprisoned in a small room in the Agra Fort, where he spent the rest of his life watching workmen toiling to complete his mausoleum.  While Shah Jehan never set foot in the Taj Mahal, that is where he is buried to this day alongside his beloved Mumtaz Mahal.

View from the northern entrance

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Street Foods of Old Delhi

Every first time traveller to India would no doubt be warned about the dangers of bacteria and intestinal parasites which result in "Delhi belly" - a nasty set of symptoms that has ruined many a holiday. Much of the apprehension is focussed on street foods, which while providing an authentic culinary experience on the one hand, also serves as a possible vehicle for contamination.  As I arrived in New Delhi, I too weighed the risks of eating street food but decided to take the plunge anyway - with a proper tour guide - Surekha Narain of Delhi Metro Walks.  Boy am I glad I did! 

It's possible to enjoy the street delights of Delhi as long as one takes some precautions such as:
  • refraining from eating fresh, uncooked food (e.g. juices, salads, cut fruits & vegetables)
  • buying cooked food from stalls with high customer turnover, where the wares haven't been left sitting out for too long
  • bringing your own hand sanitizers & disposable spoons, and remembering to use them before every meal or snack stop
  • not judging a stall too quickly by western standards of hygiene, maintaining a high level of tolerance and healthy sense of humour :)
 Aunty Jo Jo enjoying breakfast puri (deep fried bread) and potato curry at Chandni Chowk

As we traversed the ancient alleys of Old Delhi, I discovered some truly unique and delicious foods.  Here are a some of my favourites, in order of preference.



 
Daulat Ki Chaat is a dessert of milk mousse topped with saffron and sugar.  It's a winter specialty in Old Delhi.  What a delightful plate of playfulness!  I only caught a brief taste of sugary milkiness before the pillow of mousse dissolved in my mouth.  This dessert requires a lot of preparation, often beginning with the churning of milk at 2am before setting it in the wake of morning dew. 
Next up we have Til Papri - a confectionary made of sesame which reminded me of some Chinese sweets which were a childhood favourite.  Since it can keep for several months, I bought some to take home.



Khurchan (meaning "leftover scrapes" in Hindi) is a gooey milk candy that is ultra sweet.  It is made by boiling milk, scraping the leftovers from the bottom of the pan and leaving it to evaporate. It's then packed into trays, cut into rectangles and topped with more sugar and julienned pistachios. 

Finally we have dahi balla - spicy lentil balls topped with sweet yogurt and tamarind sauce. The power-packed combination of sweet, savoury, sour and spicy flavours were a little too overwhelming for my palate.  Although I'm told it is the firm favourite of many Delhi-ites. 





We tried a few savoury samosas as well - one fried in pure ghee which was quite decadent and a Jain samosa filled with moong dhal (yellow peas).

I am so happy to have experienced the street foods of Old Delhi and lived to tell the tale!

Monday, December 08, 2014

My family in India

They say home is where the heart is.  I have felt very much at home since arriving in India three weeks ago.  It is largely due to the Chattertons, who have welcomed me so warmly into their family, and introduced me to all their close friends in New Delhi.  We've also had marvelous adventures travelling through Rajasthan together for a week.

(L-R) Sebastian, Dominic, Aunty Jojo, Isabel and Andrew

Andrew and I shared a house in Birmingham back in 1995 when I was studying for my MBA in the UK.  We became very good friends sharing a love of good food (especially Chinese), and used to cook up a storm most days of the week. I was fortunate enough to spend time with Andrew's family in Barnsley, South Yorkshire as well.  His mum, Barbara, made me the first, and by far the best apple crumble I've tasted so far :)
Isabel was a year ahead of me in business school.  She was completing her PhD research on foreign direct investment in Malaysia when we first connected.  I invited her home one day to discuss her research work.  Andrew was waiting patiently at home for me to arrive with my beautiful Colombian friend. The rest, they say, is history.

Andrew and Isabel married in Bogota, Colombia in 2000 and I had the honour of singing at their wedding.


They have two darling boys, Dominic and Sebastian, who know me as Aunty Jo Jo! (what else?)

My two "hemsome" boys: Sebastian (blue jacket) and Dominic (tan jacket)

Aunty Jojo with Sebastian, who's all dressed to impress