Category Archives: Health

Celebrating the Olympic Flame Lighting in Greece

Ancient Olympia hosted the first Olympic games in 776 B.C. to honor Zeus, the king of Greek gods. The games were presided over by a flame that represented the endeavor of perfection. Using the rays of the sun and some good Greek olive oil, the 2012 Olympic Flame was lit today in Ancient Olympia. It will spend 8 days touring Greece before being taken to the U.K. for this year’s ceremonies.

In celebration of the event, our family did a little Olympic competition of our own. Ava and Kayan competed in a toddler triathlon. Their first stage was swimming. We spent a few hours at a remote beach, where Kayan encouraged Ava to jump higher over each wave and Ava edged Kayan to go deeper into the water. It was Kayan who won out as Ava’s desire to protect her hair was her downfall.

The second stage was running, where they raced each other for 3 kilometers back to our neighborhood. Kayan’s little legs combined with salt water filled diaper proved to be no match for Ava’s determined strides.

The final stage involved climbing up the steep hill to our building and then to the our second floor apartment. Ava ultimately won the battle, for no other reason than she elbowed her way through the apartment door in search of a brush. Instead of laurel wreaths or medals, the kids’ rewards were pine cones. They were happy with the competition and the reward, which just goes to show that they are true professionals and it is the spirit of the games that matters.

We will be in Africa during the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremonies. We’re not yet sure how we will be celebrating. 100 meter lion sprint or 50 meter shark freestyle?


Filed under Greece, Health

Trekking to the Top of the World in Sikkim

One of the things we looked forward to about taking this extended break was that we had the time to reach the far corners of the world – places that were too hard to get to and appreciate on a one week vacation. Three flights, four cars, five horses and thousands of steps later, we finally reached one such place – the Sikkimese mountain of Dzongri, in the middle of the Himalayan mountains. Dzongri offers untouched mountain terrain, complete seclusion and a perfect view of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest peak.

We had done overnight trekking in Thailand and Burma, but nothing prepared us for the magnificence or challenge of scaling 14,000 feet up the Himalayas in Sikkim. Nestled between Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan, Sikkim is not an easy place to reach. It was a Buddhist Kingdom until 1975, when it became a state of India. The road to Dzongri ends in the tiny town of Yuksom. From there, a narrow mountain trail leads people and their accompanying pack animals into the depths of the mountains. The entire trek is in the Kanchenjunga National Park and is completely devoid of permanent inhabitants. Apart from the path, and a handful of modest trekking huts, the only reminders of human life in these mountains are modest Buddhist stupas and prayer flags.

Perhaps because of its elusiveness, Sikkim is one of the most beautiful places we have ever been to. Some refer to it as the last Shangri-La, and we agree. During our hike we went through distinct topography every day, each seemingly competing with the other for beauty. On day one we trekked up to 6,000 feet, through lush green mountains, full of orchid crusted trees and magnolias. We reached 10,000 feet on day two, passing through dense pine forest. One day three we reached Dzongri, at 14,000 feet. Despite the height, Dzongri still has a carpet of red rhododendron bushes surviving among the Himalayan shadows. The trek was absolutely gorgeous at every turn, but it didn’t come without it’s challenges. We crossed three bridges each way, and each tested my extreme fear of heights.

We walked up to eight hours each day, pacing ourselves, hydrating and fueling up with food. We found the first two days relatively easy, and this was probably because we were completely enchanted with the ancient trees, rainbow of flowers and singing birds. Yes, it sounds like something out of a movie, but even Sandeep started calling it the trek to heaven. Once we left the greener altitudes, each step took more and more effort given the high elevation and low oxygen. The terrain the day we reached Dzongri was steep and rocky, and March’s melting snow made the path extremely slippery.

Our campsite in Dzongri seemed extraterrestrial. The earth was almost barren and the looming Himalayas appeared ready to engulf us. We happened to be there when there was no moon, so the only light was from the blanket of stars, which seemed close enough to grab.

Our night in Dzongri tested our wits. It was bitterly cold, and the high altitude pounded at our heads and deprived us of any hope of sleep. At 4 A.M the next morning we made a short trek with our flashlights to the viewpoint to see the sun rise over the snow capped mountains surrounding us. With no sleep and heavy legs, we almost turned back. We’re not ones to wake up for sunrises and we wondered if this was all worth it. Our guide gently nudged us to put one foot in front of the other until we finally reached the summit. The view of the Himalayas in the crisp morning literally took any breath we had left away.

Standing in the shadows of the Himalayas has to be one of the most humbling things for a human to experience in nature. The Himalayan range has brought adventurers from all over the world, and its peaks are considered sacred by Buddhists. Despite watching documentaries and movies that featured mountains such as Everest, nothing prepared us for being face to face with the imposing mountains.


Filed under Health, India

Meandering Malayalee Runs

One way we try to experience the places we visit is by running. You may have read about our heart pounding hill running in Penang and our lazy interval training in Goa. While the legs are willing to go, the location sometimes has other plans.

Take for instance our runs around Kottayam, a hilly tropical town along the Kerala backwaters. The best paved road out of the house leads us to a train crossing. Sure enough, as we approached today, no more than six minutes into our run, the gate came down. By the time we waited for the train to pass and the gates to lift, eleven minutes had gone by. This video shows the scene at the crossing.

Off we went, chugging our own way up a steep hill which ends at this corner store.

Past the store is an equally steep decline that forces us to slow to a walk. The road ends at the base of the backwaters, where the scenery is so breathtaking, we have no choice but to stop and take pictures.

By this time the sun starts setting and we explore a few more side roads, each taking us up a strong incline and down another dead end to a temple, house, or random goat.

We were convinced that the train stop and short bursts of activity didn’t result in a real workout. But Sandeep’s monitor assured us that we burned 493 calories in an hour. Not bad for a meandering run. It must be the hills, but the vista makes it so bearable.


Filed under Health, India

A Traditional Kerala Home Remedy

I’ve never had allergies, but something’s getting me in Kerala. My eyes are red, my nose is a faucet and my head feels like it’s about to explode. As I was wallowing in pity, I noticed Sandeep’s mom puttering about with various shrubs. She confessed that she was brewing me up a home remedy to clear out my head.

As with most of her cooking, some ingredients are a mystery. Some tulsi (holy basil), dried ginger, a liberal amount of black peppercorns, the leaves of what she called wild Chinese potato (she specified that it had to be wild), and a wad of coffee-ginger-Chinese potato mixture.

She pounded it to a pulp in her mortar.

And boiled it down to a thick opaque juice.

At first, things seemed to have backfired. My eyes started spouting, my nose turned red, my head heated up. But then, within minutes, everything cleared. When traveling, I do think it’s best to try the local remedies. Locals are much more used to the flora and fauna and have perfected these solutions over generations. Way better than a Benedryl and without the side effects.


Filed under Health, India

Interval Training in Goa

We set out this morning on a one hour run. We ended up doing a combination of walking, jogging, running, ferry riding, coffee breaking, and bus riding.

Goans have a reputation for being lazy. Our family lives on an island in Goa, so some say we are even lazier. I prefer to call it laid back. In an effort to prove this reputation wrong, I joined Sandeep for a run this morning. I even convinced my cousin, Zarine, to come, while my other cousin, Keri, was on kid duty.

We walked the first stretch due to Sandeep’s fear of dogs. Many dogs, even if they belong to a home, run free on the island. What with all the laziness and all, there aren’t that many people running so the dogs see runners as somewhat of a novelty meant to be chased. Our first animal sighting, however, were the chickens taking their morning stroll.

Followed by what Sandeep was convinced were feral dogs.

Followed by a goats grazing in the grasses and cows roaming in the paddy fields. When we reached the stretch of open road between the village houses and the river, we began to jog. We rationalized that there would be no dogs given there was no property to protect. Two minutes after convincing ourselves, we heard a growl and some clicking behind us, so our jog turned into a full on run until we reached the end of the road – the Mandovi River.

With no desire to turn back towards the growling, we hopped onto the incoming ferry, heading across the river to Old Goa. Sandeep looked back to make sure the dogs hadn’t decided on a similar excursion.

Old Goa is dotted with 400+ year old churches, and in the early morning serenity, we couldn’t resist strolling by.

And what better way to enjoy a morning stroll than with a cup of freshly brewed coffee.

Refueled, we took the ferry back to Divar island, in time to see the morning commuters.

Back at the scene of the growling, the local ferry shuttle bus through the island was a welcome alternative to running home. We didn’t know the exact fare, but the collector let three of us ride for 10 rupees (20 U.S. cents). When we saw men seated in rows marked ladies only, we figured some rules no longer apply, even on an island where time seems to have stopped.

Although I do hope the no spitting rule is still followed.

Back home, with no sweat to show for our journey, we enjoyed our second cups of coffee. Looking back on it, we only ran 15 minutes. I refuse to call it laziness, though. It’s interval training.


Filed under Health, India

Leaving Kuala Lumpur

After five days in Kuala Lumpur, we’re heading to India tomorrow. We chose to break our journey between our South East Asia travels and India in a big city. Kuala Lumpur certainly provided that, with its mega highways, super clean transit system, world class health care and malls malls malls. I admit that I was somewhat dissappointed not to see more history here. Then again, if we had done our homework, we would have known the city was only founded in the mid 1800s, making it a newcomer by Asian standards.

We figured as long as we were in a modern city, we would check out the new wave of health care tourism in Asia. Foreigners travel here for lower cost health care and higher quality service. We’re all in good shape, so decided that the easiest way to get a taste for the health care situation was to send the kids for a check-up. I’ve admitted before to exploiting our children for travel education, and this is an instance where we did just that. In our defense, the kids love doctor’s visits and would have been upset if one of us went instead of them.

Gleneagles Hospital is like a country club. Porches, Mercedes, and BMWs roll into the entrance to be passed on to the valet. At the base of the building is a French bistro. We went to the pediatric wing, where we were taken in immediately for a consultation. I filled out forms while Sandeep tried to stop the kids from toppling over the tropical fish tank.

I got a kick out of the forms – just one sheet of paper  – as opposed to the 6+ we need to fill out back home – and a race choice of Chinese, Indian, or Malay. It’s the first time I have been able to select a race other than ‘Other’.

The doctor spent half an hour with us, taking her time to ask the kids questions. Kayan bounced off her walls and smacked down her toys. Ava sang ABC at the top of her lungs. At the end of the visit she politely claimed “These kids are healthy. I can tell by how interactive they are.” That pronouncement cost $40 per child.

While we’ve had our fill of big city and are ready to lay low again, we will miss Malaysia’s amazing diversity of culture and food. Here is our dinner bill from tonight. We had freshly squeezed and blended juices, Indian naans and rotis, Malay chicken and European ais krim all for $14.


See you in India!


Filed under Health, Malaysia

Running the 12K in Kuala Lumpur

I failed at my attempt to have Sandeep guest write today’s post about running the Malakoff 12K Kuala Lumpur. Instead, we agreed on an interview. It worked out pretty well – I practiced my interview skills, Sandeep half dozed off  and the kids busied themselves with his race medal.

Diya: Why did you want to run this race and wake us all up at the crack of dawn?

Sandeep: I want to do what I would do if I lived in the places we’re visiting. Running is what I do in New York, so I want to see how locals do it around the world. I think they do early morning races to avoid heart burn. After eating spicy Asian food for a month, I’m getting heart burn for the first time in my life.

Diya: I think we’re just getting old. How did you find out about this race?

Sandeep: I seached for runs in Malaysia and this came up. I missed the Penang Half Marathon, which would have been great.

Diya: What were your impressions when you got to the starting line? The kids and I were watching the horses. You probably had other things in your mind.

Sandeep: Since I wasn’t local, I got there an hour early to get my race pack, but everyone else was already stretching. I thought that was odd considering the run itself was only about an hour.  This is totally stereotyping, but the Asian competitive spirit was clear at the onset. One announcer acted like a club DJ trying to ra-ra the participants. All the while another motherly type announcer was saying things like “If you’re not feeling well, don’t compete. Rest and you’ll have another try.”

Diya: As long as we are stereotyping, do you think the competitive spirit is why Asia is getting ahead?

Sandeep: People seemed extremely disciplined and very goal oriented. Definitely more intense than a New York 12K would be.

Diya: How was the run?

Sandeep: It was humid, but the run itself was excellent. It was by an upscale neighborhood (Bangsar) at the Bukit Kiara Equestrian & Country Resort, which is probably an indication that running itself is an upmarket sport in Kuala Lumpur. It was perfectly organized by Pacesetters. Signage was easy, there were no glitches.

Diya: Was it worth the registration hassle? You had to wire money from Penang and then hunt for a fax machine to send a confirmation receipt.

Sandeep: Absolutely. My quick dry t-shirt alone was worth the 65 Ringgit registration fee (about $22). On top of that there were all kinds of food at the end – noodles, ais kacang, cereal for the kids, and of course Gatorade. Way better than a dry bagel and bananas.

Diya: Sorry for not embracing you at the finish. Your shirt was pretty soaked. What kind of shape do you think you were in for this run?

Sandeep: Didn’t you say you sweat more when it’s humid? I’m in terrible shape. I hadn’t run in five weeks and then spent the last week in Penang trying to train on hills. But the fun of running here with the Petronas Towers in the background was exhilarating enough that I maintained my pace.  Watching the runners was cool. They were of all different ages and races. I’ve never run with women in burkas, and a lot of them beat me.

Diya: Should we plan on 5 AM wake ups everywhere we go?

Sandeep: Yup, if I can work it out. But I’ve been finding it difficult to find organized runs in a lot of the areas we are going to. I did find an ultra marathon in Durban, South Africa. But it’s 100K and reserved for elite runners, so I won’t be participating. The 2011 December “mini marathon” organized in Kerala (India) has been postponed to December 2012 due to “technical issues” so I won’t be holding my breath for runs in India. Anyway, the last time I ran there I got chased by village dogs. I’m also looking into cycling events. I found Tour de India. The website has a countdown clock to the second, but doesn’t mention the actual date.

For the record, I did hug Sandeep once he took a shower. Ava was less discerning.


Filed under Health, Malaysia

Taking Our Pause in Penang

Despite being a bustling place, Penang still retained the laid back island feel that caused us to slow down more than we did in Hong Kong and even Chiang Mai. We didn’t feel the need to see or do a lot. Fortunately, our apartment rental was gorgeous and self sufficient with a beach, pool, tennis courts and a large playground.  So, aside from a few excursions into George Town, we just hung out around the apartment and ate in the neighborhood.

Our very short to-do list in Penang gave us a lot of time to spend together as a family.

We took time to lounge.

We took time to talk.

We took time to get in shape.

We took time to play.

And of course, we took time to eat.

We said our goodbyes to Penang this afternoon and are now in Kuala Lumpur. The energy of the city already feels overwhelming after our island escape. We don’t yet have an agenda here, but can already feel the pull to see and do more. Despite this, I hope that we still find time to lounge, talk, stay in shape and play. Oh, and eat!


Filed under Food, Health, Malaysia, Travel With Kids

Eating the Extra Mile in Penang

We’ve established that we are in Penang to eat as much as we can of as many different foods as possible. To convey what exactly that means, let’s walk through our dinner tonight at Fisherman Village Seafood Restaurant, located on the beach of the Teluk Bahang neighborhood. We went there to check out the Teluk Bahang Fisherman Village and see how fresh we could get our seafood.

I asked the kids and Ya how many fish they wanted for dinner.

As usual, we ordered enough for two families.

First we started with fruit drinks, lemonade and plum juice. So Refreshing.

The meal started with black pepper fried squid. Yummy gooey tamarind and pepper coating a crisp batter.

Then came the starches, some Fisherman Village Fried Rice Special. I thought it was just ok, bland, but suitable for the kids.

And noodles in a soya gravy, which was too salty for my taste, but again good for the kids.

We needed veggies, so went with kailan, Penang's staple. This one was simply tossed with salted fish and retained its snap.

The star of the meal was 800 grams of garlicky fried red snapper. It was crunchy and fresh, and definitely worth the extra 40 Ringgit.

We completed the feast with fried ice cream. This was the first of two. Crisp salty crust covered sweet vanilla cold goodness.

The meal came to 91.80 Ringgit for three adults and two kids. The seafood was fresh, including the little bits mixed into the fried rice. If we go back, we’d stick to the seafood and veggie dishes so that the mediocre starches don’t take up uncessasary space in our bellies.

The fried ice cream may be shaped like a heart, but we know all this eating can’t be good for ours. The kids are getting plenty of excercise at the pool and playground, but Sandeep and I needed to take action. We started a daily ritual of running while the kids nap. Across our apartment in Tanjung Bungah is Pearl Hill, a neighborhood dotted with McMansions, forrest and monkeys in the forrest. A loop up and around the hill is three miles, but the climb itself is enough to get my heart leaping out of my chest. Sandeep hops up without any effort, which is why he can take a picture like this.

The views along the way are worth the gasps for air.

And we daydream about buying a place in the neighborhood.

I’m still trying to capture a picture of the monkeys we hear in the trees. They taunt us with their calls but no monkey sighting yet.

Penang has engulfed us in a virtuous cycle of eating too much, trying to run it off, getting lost in the scenary, feeling famished from the run, and eating too much again. We love getting caught.


Filed under Food, Health, Malaysia

Giving Thanks in Chiang Mai

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that it’s all about food. There’s no pressure for gifts, no religious association, just good food and company.

Today we’ve particularly missed family and friends. I missed my Aunt Shernaz’s thanksgiving soup and I even missed the way her oven always takes an hour longer than it’s supposed to for the Turkey. The wait is always worth it.

On the brighter side, our family has so much to be thankful for this year. After all, we are living the dream of traveling around the world! We spent Thanksgiving celebrating the two things we are most grateful for right now – our health and time with each other. We did this by cycling 40 miles together in the hills north of Chiang Mai.

We’re thankful for health. When I found out I had multiple sclerosis five years ago, I had fears of not being able to ride a bike, let alone being physically capable of traveling the world with two kids. Luckily, thanks to a great group of doctors, support from family, friends and colleagues, and most importantly a positive outlook, MS has been a reason to experience life to its fullest. Given the unpredictability of MS, things could have turned out a lot worse, so our family is thankful for our collective ability to enjoy unrestricted physical activity on our trip (like cycling to a reservoir and then carrying our kids across its overflowing dam).

Each year, Sandeep and I lead a team to cycle 30 miles around Manhattan to raise awareness for MS. We figured that, on Thanksgiving, cycling around Chiang Mai would be a great way to celebrate the adventures of a healthy family living with MS.

We’re thankful for this unrestricted time together. In New York, we I tried to maintain a work-life balance that allowed us to be home for dinner and work-free on weekends. However, we still checked-in constantly, and maintained a level of stress that comes with active careers. Sandeep is still working, but his (very long distance) telecommuting has enabled him to set hours and expectations so that we can still enjoy our life on the road.

Spending more time together means listening to Ava go on and on about she only knows what, and having the patience (and interest, most times!) to do so. It means taking 15 minutes to walk to the end of the road to entertain Kayan’s fascination for every flower, rock and car. And even though Sandeep and I have struggled to have our independent conversations, we have been able to recall and share a lot of random stories from our pasts and ponder our future.

We had Thanksgiving lunch by the reservoir at the top of the mountain. We didn’t have a turkey, but enjoyed Thai fish with all the trimmings. The only thing that could have made this Thanksgiving better would have been the ability to share it with those at home.

Happy Thanksgiving!



Filed under Food, Health, Thailand