Tuesday Travels | A Look Inside One of India’s Largest Slum

When I tell you that Dharavi is one of India’s largest slums, what comes to mind? Okay, hold that thought.

Now watch this video..& tell me.

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Frustrations of being a British Born Indian Bengali


Born and brought up in the UK, I feel privileged to experience life in such a diverse country where different religions, cultures and beliefs are respected. That said, the Indian culture that I have experienced here is inevitably different compared to if I’d been brought up in India.

Visiting India every year, I have come across some misconceptions that people seem to have of the British Born which I will share below.

1. That non-resident Asians (may think they) are somehow ‘better’ than the resident Asians.

My mashi (maternal aunt) once told me a story of an NRI (Non-Resident Indian) woman at the gym that felt she was ‘entitled’ to be on a piece of gym equipment for longer than the suggested time….just because she lived abroad…..!!

And before you ask, no she wasn’t famous and EVEN if she was, it would still not be acceptable.

Yes, this is a true story.

Yes, it baffles me too.

Yes, it makes me ashamed and I apologise on behalf of all NRIs to any Resident Indians that may have experienced this outrageous behaviour.

No, we are NOT better.

We are ALL equal.

NRIs ARE OF course going to differ.

2nd, 3rd and subsequent generations born and brought up away from the country of heritage, WILL obviously be different from their corresponding cousins brought up in the homeland.

That is a given, due to differences in culture and society, yet there is NOT and should NOT ever be a distinction between who is ‘better’.

2.       Just because we’re non-resident, we are apparently incapable of venturing out alone or being independent.

There is a wonderful scene in the award-winning film, The Namesake, directed by Mira Nair, adapted from Jhumpa Lahiri’s book, of Gogol trying to go for a run in the chaotic streets of Kolkata. His Indian family become so worried that Sahib babu (Sahib – means ‘foreigner’ Babu – affectionate name for a boy/son/friend) cannot handle these unfamiliar surroundings, that they send out their servant to follow him.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the concern of my elders; any country holds risk and potential dangers if one is not alert and aware of their surroundings. However, to wrap us up in cotton wool in some false hope that these troubles will disappear, is in my opinion worse. Shielding us from the harshness of life is understandable when one is young, yet as we grow older, it is imperative that we, as tomorrow’s adults, learn how to best deal with hardships, how to be independent and responsible simultaneously and how to be the peace in times of chaos rather than continue a cycle of not avoiding the real issues entirely.

Have faith that we are culturally aware and responsible enough to make educated choices in today’s world and that even if you don’t, we still have faith in humanity, despite the many times you remind us that ‘din kal kharap’ (times are bad, in this day and age’).

3.       The misconception that we are all uncultured and uninterested in our heritage. 

There have been too many times to count where distant relatives and family friends have assumed I could not speak Bengali and have asked my mother questions about me, whilst I have been sitting there in front of them like an inanimate object! Others have started talking English to me and seem taken aback when I in fact reply in Bengali.

By no means am I completely fluent (I am still working on being able to write the script) yet I do take pride in knowing the language, taking an interest in the culture; whether it be visiting India every year or being sucked into watching the Indian soaps that my mother watches religiously!

Even the little things:

Turning up to school on a Monday morning with a right hand full of ‘yellow’ finger nails because Sunday was spent eating curry heavily laden with turmeric with my fingers, being admonished frequently for not oiling my hair enough or having all our appliances still in their protective plastic covers!

These little things make up my bigger picture, and denying them would remove a huge part of my British Indian Bengali identity. I appreciate that other people may disagree but for me personally, I am proud to say these make up who I am.


All views are my own. One may find they can relate to certain or all aspects of this post which is what I intended by sharing it. It does not however represent the views of ALL British Born Indian Bengalis, or British Born Asians for that matter. I am merely 1, and there are many of us around so attempting to characterise all musings would be difficult.

I’m open to adding more to this list so please feel free to comment below, subscribe on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and get in touch!

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Chai & Chats with: Natasha Sandhu

By now, you must have heard of the extremely talented Arjun Coomaraswamy.

If not, check out our interview with him here.

Behind every successful artist is usually a very organised management team and Arjun’s is no different. However, not only is Arjun’s personal assistant committed to helping promote his talent, Natasha Sandhu is also a full-time qualified doctor, singer and model.

The Asian Destination finds out how she manages to balance being an integral member of Arjun’s management team, her own creative projects as well as a career in medicine.

Natasha Sandhu

TAD: How did you first become Arjun’s personal assistant?

NS: I first met Arjun when we were assigned to sing together at a show, over 4 years ago now! That very moment I heard him sing at our first rehearsal I thought,

“Wow this guy is destined for big things”.

I was so blown away by how humble yet talented he was which meant helping him a no-brainer. I’ve believed in him from day one and he is now one of my best friends, which is why he trusts me to be part of the team. Since then, I’ve become increasingly involved in helping with his day-to-day affairs, touring, online PR, styling etc alongside his main management, Crown.

I’ll always have his back and work hard to help his talent get recognised.

TAD: You’re a qualified doctor, what stage are you in your medical career? What is your specialty/what are you hoping to specialise in?

NS: Yes I’m a full-time working doctor now, which shocks a lot of people in the media industry. I qualified 2 years ago, so work is really busy with increasingly more responsibilities.

In the long term I want to be a General Practitioner since you build long-term relationships with patients, there is more scope for variety and I find the daily work in hospital specialities too repetitive.

Plus I’d have more flexibility to keep travelling, helping Arjun with his music, and doing my own projects, as they are all passions I cannot give up! But I love A&E so I plan to locum in that for the excitement.

I’ve also had an interest in international health promotion and human rights since I was a teenager (UN and Amnesty) so I want to take time out of clinical medicine and get more involved with that later.

TAD: Are we right in thinking as well as your PA job and medicine you’re also an aspiring singer and model? Tell us more about these other passions of yours.

NS: Err, yes I can sing English R&B/pop and have performed a lot but I’m not planning a singing career!

My favourite performances involve a Beyoncé song since I am OBSESSED with her!

If you have heard Arjun’s Kabhi Kabhi I sang in that with my ‘sister’ Shivali but I cringe singing it since I’m not fluent in Hindi (yet!).

Nowadays I don’t sing solo since it’s only been a hobby for me, and there is no time. On tour though, whether it’s Kabhi Khabhi or an acoustic cover of an English song, I love singing on tour with Arjun.

I’ve done mainly editorial modelling since I was 14, but it’s been on and off due to medicine meaning I cannot make most shoots in working hours.

It has picked up again though and I’ve had some fun shoots in the past 3 years with my agencies.

It’s something I don’t talk about much since I do it for me rather than to talk about it, and I’ve experienced girls becoming judgemental or jealous in the past so I’d rather keep most of it to myself. However, I LOVE fashion, so when opportunities have arisen I’ve taken them since I don’t want to regret it later.

TAD: Is there anything you can’t do?! Should we be looking out for you on the next series of The Apprentice?!

NS: Trust me I’m useless at SO many things! I can’t act, I can’t play a bunch of instruments I’d love to, I can’t rap (haha imagine!), I’m not as multi-lingual as I’d love to be… the list goes on! Doing multiple things doesn’t mean I’m amazing at everything I do or that I don’t wish there were other things I could do. Besides nobody multi-tasks as well as my mumI swear mothers are superhuman right?!

Natasha Sandhu

TAD: Most doctors find it difficult to juggle medicine and other personal commitments, how do you find time to balance a second career whilst also pursuing other interests as well?

NS: My dad always taught me to “work hard, play hard” so it’s down to him! Ever since I was at school, I would study but every evening I’d have a different extra-curricular activity. I just liked being busy even then. I’ve never needed 8 hours of sleep and my diary is my life – organisation is the key; you have to know when to say no and what your limits are.

TAD: How do you stop yourself from burning out? How do you relax?

NS: Spending time with family, especially my sister, and friends is important to me. It’s definitely the best way to relax – you can’t replace girly nights-in! I’ve recently tried yoga plus the occasional massage also helps! I like going to the movies, working-out, shopping, and reading.

Travelling has always been one of my favourite things in life and I have fortunately grown up going abroad to a different country with my family every year. So as manic as touring with Arjun can be at times, I do find it relaxing in itself and I want to see as much of the world as I can before I die.

Natasha & Arjun

TAD: And what advice would you give to other people out there that may have gone down one specific career path but may be thinking of switching?

NS: Actions speak louder than words so if you want to do something different even as a hobby don’t waste time! Don’t ever regret not trying something if you’re passionate about it. But take calculated risks; if you’re worried about switching careers and possibly risking everything just wean into your new path part-time. Then if you think it will work for you great, and if not at least you have tried rather than wondering ‘what if?’

TAD: What’s next for you?

NS: I will have important medical exams over the next 3 years so I can’t wait to get them done and focus on the speciality I enjoy. Arjun is releasing his first mainstream single ‘Take It Back’ very soon so I am very busy with that release (you guys will LOVE it!) and we are finalising his album and talking to international music labels. I’ll continue to travel as much as possible, stay happy, and who knows what else the future holds!

We wish Natasha all the best with her future endeavours.

Be sure to check out Natasha on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram!

Have a listen to Kabhi Kabhi here:

If you liked this post, you may also like:

Chai & Chats with: Arjun Coomaraswamy

Chai & Chats with: Roshni Chugani

Chai & Chats with: Pavan Ahluwalia

Chai & Chats with: Malika Garrett

Chai & Chats with: Amilla Javed

Chai & Chats with: Jesbir Bahia

from Destination: Interviews

Happy Durga Puja

Happy Kali Puja & Diwali

from Destination: Celebration

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‘Like’ us on Facebook: facebook.com/theasiandestination

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The Asian Destination Links

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‘Like’ us on Facebook: facebook.com/theasiandestination

Follow us on Instagram: @theasiandestination

Chai & Chats with: Arjun Coomaraswamy

London-based singer, songwriter and producer, Arjun stands out from mainstream music. Mixing soulful R&B with his desi roots, it is no wonder his first four singles created such hype and has been described as one to watch internationally. The Asian Destination talks to him about his whirlwind of success and about being a rising star in the music industry.
TAD: You were nominated as ‘Best Newcomer’ at the ‘Brit Asia Music Awards 2011’, chosen as one of ‘MTV’s Top 20 Unsigned Acts for 2012’ and your music has made it to global TV channels such as CNN, MTV India and NDTV, making you truly a ‘rising star’. You also won Best Urban Act at the UK Asian Music Awards in October 2012. We’re sure this is still only the beginning of your success. Tell us, how has the last 18 months been for you?

A:  I guess you could say that the last 18 months have been life changing for me.  I’ve been fortunate enough to perform all over the world and had the chance to meet and work with some amazing people.   Hopefully this has laid a foundation for the next step – the mainstream in the UK and US.

TAD: Your ever-increasing fan base means your YouTube music videos are being watched in the millions, you have the support of Radio DJs internationally and your performances are being requested all over the world. How does it make you feel to know your music has been so well and widely received?


A: To be honest, it is still a shock to think that anybody other than myself and my mum could be listening to my music!  I consider it a blessing to be able to make the music I like and find that there are other people out there who like it too.

TAD: What would you say was the turning point that has marked your growing success over the last couple of years?

A: The turning point was definitely the moment when I decided to do a remix of the Tamil film song “Why This Kolaveri Di?”  That was a complete experiment and no-one was more amazed than I was  when I woke up the next morning and found that it had gone truly viral.

TAD: When did you first become interested in music? Were you always passionate about it as a career or did you (or your parents/family) have other plans for you? When did you first become interested in music? Were you always passionate about it as a career or did you (or your parents/family) have other plans for you?

A: From a very young age I used to play in various school bands, on instruments ranging from the flute to the drums.  I always dreamt of being a musician, though initially I went a more conventional route and studied Architecture at University.

TAD: As well as singing and playing a variety of instruments (including guitar and the flute), you also studied Music Production and Sound Engineering at college. The music business is a tough industry to make your mark in, yet your online popularity seems to have given you an advantageous edge. Would you say your versatility is what makes you unique?

A: I’m not sure how versatile I am!  Certainly it has helped to have had a varied musical background.  I definitely enjoy exploring different musical genres and am constantly experimenting with different options to try to come up with different sounds.

TAD: Who are your musical inspirations? If you had the choice, who would you love to collaborate with one day?

A: My main inspirations have been R&B artists like Craig David, Ryan Leslie and Donell Jones.  Right now if I had to pick a couple of artists whom I would like to collaborate with, I would say Frank Ocean and Miguel, because they are pushing the boundaries and forging a new R&B sound.

TAD: Your song about ‘Aishwarya’s Eyes’ made it to The Times of India! Are you a big Bollywood fan? You were born and brought up in the UK, how strong a connection do you keep to your desi roots? Your version of the popular Bollywood song, ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ includes covers of Nicki Minaj’s Superbass. How much does being a British Asian, influence your music?

A: I have become more interested in Bollywood music recently.  Earlier I used to watch the films for their own sake, now I am interested in them more for their soundtracks! I try to keep abreast of all the big Bollywood releases which come out.

I came to the UK at a very young age.   My parents are very Westernised, but I have a lot of British Asian friends.  I think I am fairly in touch with my Desi roots through music and through my friends.   Being a British Asian is the main factor which has influenced my music, because the music I listen to is derived from two different worlds.  This has led me to create music which resonates with other Westernised Asians around the world who represent a fusion of two cultures; this is what makes us unique.

TAD:  How do you handle criticism and rejection?

A:  The more success you have, the more people are exposed to your music and the more criticism you will face, especially when you remake classic songs.  It is important to take on board constructive criticism; you have to be strong-willed enough to take what others have to say without being put off your own course.

TAD: What advice would you give to individuals wishing to embark on music career or those that are struggling to get signed?

A: The advice I would give to individuals who want to embark on a music career is: make sure you learn how the industry operates.  You should not make getting signed your main objective.  You should develop your own sound & brand, and always try to be unique!  Focus on making music and on being you, and let labels come to you.   Use the basic tools available to you in this day and age (i.e. social media) to your advantage and get your music out to the world.

TAD: How do you react to people calling you a role model for independent music artists?

A: It is flattering if anyone considers me a role model.  Having gone the independent route thus far, I can say that one good thing about being independent is that you have complete creative control and can do everything on your own terms, without anyone telling you what to do.  It also means you can connect directly with your listeners/fans.

TAD:  Could you tell us a little bit about your new mainstream single, which is set to be released soon? Will it be available internationally? How do we make sure we know when and where to get our hands on a copy?

A: The mainstream single I hope to release soon is called “Take it Back” and is basically a tribute to old school R&B, since I would like to see R&B brought back in the mainstream.  Rather than follow what is trending and sonically in fashion at the moment, I thought it would be more interesting to carve out my own niche and make music which I genuinely believe in.  If you stay tuned to my social media sites you’ll definitely know when it’s coming out: hopefully it won’t be long now!


Make sure you are following Arjun on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Soundcloud!

Still can’t get enough? Here’s his website for more details!

If you liked this post, you may also like:

Chai & Chats with: Roshni Chugani

Chai & Chats with: Pavan Ahluwalia

Chai & Chats with: Malika Garrett

Chai & Chats with: Amilla Javed

Chai & Chats with: Jesbir Bahia

from Destination: Interviews

Happy Durga Puja 

 Happy Kali Puja & Diwali 

from Destination: Celebration

The Asian Destination Links

Follow The Asian Destination on Twitter: @theasiand

‘Like’ us on Facebook: facebook.com/theasiandestination

Follow us on Instagram: @theasiandestination

The Asian Destination Links

Follow The Asian Destination on Twitter: @theasiand

‘Like’ us on Facebook: facebook.com/theasiandestination

Follow us on Instagram: @theasiandestination

It’s Wednesday! You know you’re Asian when…


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What’s the difference between a goal and a dream?



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This week’s: You Know You’re Asian When…

image (23)


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You may not know who I am, but thank you anyway!

image (22)

There comes a time when you achieve more if you’re held accountable for something.

Am I right?

As you might know already, I’ve started training for a 10K run in July and raising money for The Rotary Club of Guildford’s Eye Project which focuses on avoidable blindness across the developing world.

I am beyond grateful for the response and the donations that I have received so far. I know that every pound donated will have an impact on those who are visually impaired, especially because it only takes £5 for life saving operation.

Since signing up for the run with some friends, I have discovered the The Running Bug, which devises a training plan according to your fitness level. It portions out the training into manageable chunks during the week….as long as you stick to it!

After a long day in class or labs, the last thing I want to do is to go to the gym or go for a run. This is why I have always preferred to wake up early and go in the morning. Lately though, it’s been a struggle to actually get out of bed and down to the gym.

Yep, we’ve all experienced it –

Just 5 more minutes’ turning into…’I overslept by an hour!’.

Receiving sponsorship for the run though makes me more inclined to actually follow through. Not only do I owe it to myself to give it my best shot but I owe it to the people sponsoring me with their hard-earned money not to mention of course, the people that will benefit from it all.

The more people that seem to know about the run, my training and my goal to do it in a certain time, the more accountable I feel to making it happen.

So, you might now know me, but thank you.

Thank you for making me press snooze, one less time this morning!

So Today: What can you follow through with?

If you liked this post, you may also like to read:

‘Would you turn a blind eye?’

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Destination: Japan

Destination Japan

Map-eating deer, Japanese Green Tea-flavoured everything and being served by giant frogs…

Come visit Japan with us as Josh (J), Kelsey (K) and Rachel (R) share their Japanese adventures with The Asian Destination!


Places Visited & Duration of Stay:

Keio University (Photo Source: en.wikipedia.org)

J: My stay was a 1 year exchange at Keio University. I lived in Yokohama and kept my visits to Tokyo/Yokohama for monetary reasons. I went to places like Kamakura as well.

K: Japan for 1 year. Tokyo, Miyagi prefecture, Niigata, Nagano.

R: 2 weeks:Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Miyajima

Miyagi  (Photo Source: cities.starwoodhotels.com)

(Photo Source: cities.starwoodhotels.com)

Yokohama  (Photo Source: bigskyline.com)

(Photo Source: bigskyline.com)

Favourite Destination:

J: Zusshi which is a seaside town. The beach is more of an inlet and in the past I cycled along that coastal road from there to Enoshima – great views and great atmosphere!

K: Nagano.

R: Kyoto.

Enoshima (Photo Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

Enoshima (Photo Source: commons.wikimedia.org)

Nagano  (Photo Source: japan-guide.com)

(Photo Source: japan-guide.com)

Describe the country in 3 words:
J: Respectful, helpful & beautiful.

K: Wacky, futuristic & tranquil.

R: Best country globally!

Kyoto Gardens (Photo Source: worlfortravel.com)

Kyoto Gardens (Photo Source: worlfortravel.com)

I wasn’t expecting to find…

J: A lot of people attempting to speak English. It shocked me a bit as I was expecting to hear less.

K: I wasn’t expecting to find… how down one road there would be neon lights advertising oxygen bars, and then on the other side of the road there would be a temple. Such a mix of old meets new!

R: Ginger haired groups of fashonistas hanging round at the corner of shops. Dyed ginger hair is a massive phenomenon out there, complete with 3 inch platforms and amazing make-up that looks straight off the catwalk. Also, women walking down the street in traditional Japanese dress – I thought it was more for special occasions!

'Tokyo Fashion Tribe' Photo Source: Guardian.co.uk

‘Tokyo Fashion Tribe’ Photo Source: Guardian.co.uk

My favourite part of the culture was:

J: The inherent politeness that people would have; they’d be willing to walk in the complete opposite direction of their own destination to make sure that I could find the place I was looking for. In some cases I didn’t even need to ask for directions or help – when I looked lost someone would come over! I even got given a cake by an old woman who I gave up my seat for on the train and talked to for her journey!

K: People’s eagerness to help. People would go out of their way to assist you if you were in trouble. For example you ask someone how to get somewhere, they don’t just direct you they’ll take you there personally.

R: How polite they were. The train conductor bows as he enters and exits the carriage. The shop assistants all loudly say arigato gozaimaaas as you leave the shop (even if you don’t buy anything).

The food – mochi (sort of like a donut but the dough is glutinous rice dough and the filling is traditionally red beans/sesame seeds. They do branch out into many many different flavours e.g. coffee, toffee, chocolate & peanut butter!  There was also Matcha flavoured everything (green tea) –  cosmetics, cakes, frappucino, mochi, bread. The restaurants also had plastic representations of the dishes so you would know what you were  getting before you ordered.

Mochi  (Photo Source: cincostyle.wordpress.com)

(Photo Source: cincostyle.wordpress.com)

I would describe the people as…

J: Friendly, polite and energetic.

K: helpful and polite with a bit of wackiness thrown in too.

R: Lovely, polite, helpful, charming, generally shorter than me!

Photo Source: tw.visit hokkaido.jp

Photo Source: tw.visit hokkaido.jp

I was surprised by…
J: The absolute efficiency of the Country. I was told that trains ran on time but I never expected it to be to this degree. This efficiency doesn’t just apply to public transport but with everything else. When I was making a bank account, they did it in less than an hour for me and made sure it was done before closing time and worked harder to get it done.

K: I was surprised by… how often people drink. Businessmen often go drinking every day after work with colleagues. To get involved in societies and groups a heavy deal of drinking is also required.

R: How much we loved the food and the amount of food that we had not heard of. Since my trip, Japanese food (other than Sushi) has become much more common over here – in London it is very easy to get a mochi fix . I’m still waiting for Starbucks to produce a matcha frappucino! EAT do a matcha milkshake but it’s not quite the same.

I was also surprised that it was only about 20 degrees at the beginning of September – it’s renowned for being 30+, humid and sweaty.

Photo Source: schwelastboerse.de

Photo Source: schwelastboerse.de

Something I miss about the country now:
J: The food. Without a doubt some of the tastiest stuff I’ve ever eaten in my life. It was no wonder I put on weight (over-eating). Will know to hold back next time! If you’re wondering it was food such as Ramen, Ton-katsu & Gyu-don.

K: The food. If someone could make me traditional ramen soup I would be very happy right now.

R:  I really wish I could wander out to buy some peanut butter mochi and a matcha frappucino with the shop assistants bidding me adieu (well, arigato gozaimas), boarding a train where standard class is better than a British 1st class and the conductor bowing to the carriage. Oh and how well behaved the children were – and so quiet!

Ton-Katsu  (Photo Source: norecipes.com)

(Photo Source: norecipes.com)

Any memorable/funny phrases of the language I picked up:
J:  A simple phrase I already knew before going to Japan, the word ‘Joshikai 女子会’. Means ‘Girls-only gathering‘. A thing where girls get together and drink/eat/do other things. Due to the ‘Joshi’ aspect and its similarity to my name, my American friend and I had a lot of laughs and attempted our own ‘Joshikai’. People did come surprisingly…

K: Wabisabi which means beauty in something traditionally Japanese.

R: arigatoooooo gozaiiiiimaaaaaaaasss; Moshi moshi (Hi)

Photo Source: yourdreamshare.net

Photo Source: yourdreamshare.net

Strange or memorable experience:
J: I went to a bar called ‘Kagaya’ in Tokyo. It’s described as the wackiest bar by most of the foreign bloggers who talk about Japan. This bar only serves one group at a time (for a period of a couple of hours) and the bartender goes all out to entertain by singing or dressing up in giant frog costumes. It was hilarious from start to end.

Kagaya (Photo Source: Squidoo.com)

Kagaya (Photo Source: Squidoo.com)

K: Being asked by people on the street if they can take a photo with you. Often shy in social occasions I was quite surprised that Japanese people would be so confident to take a photo with a complete stranger just because I looked a bit different to them.


Hiroshima – being the only white people visiting the peace park and getting looks from the Japanese and feeling an inner restlessness.

Miyajima – renowned for the amount of deer that just walk about on the streets. We sat down to enjoy our bubble tea and work out where we were on the map. Some deer came and surrounded us and took a bite out of our map…and then another one…and another…. We leapt up and away from the map-consuming deer with the locals laughing at us!

Photo Source: jefferson.blog.br

Photo Source: jefferson.blog.br

A misconception people may have of the country:

J: The biggest is Sushi I’d say. If anything it’s eaten once a month. And it’s the only food people ask me about when I come back home. There appears to be a bit of a lack of knowledge about food in Japan.

K: That everyone eats sushi. There are people in Japan who don’t like raw fish too and there are many different types of food to suit different tastes.

R: Upon mentioning my adoration of Japan, people have commented about Japanese being ‘harsh’ but I experienced completely the opposite.

One thing the guide books don’t tell you:
J: I never read the guide books so I’m not sure on this one but one big thing is to mind your manners on public transport  – e.g. keep your phone on silent.

K: Trains can be awfully confusing so make sure you download a underground map before you go and make sure you avoid peak hours so you can dodge being pushed onto a train with the early commuters.

R: The guide books don’t adequately explain just how to use the underground, neither do they prepare you for the culture shock of everything being in symbols, and a foreign language, although it was amazing to experience.

Guide books also don’t tell you that Japanese books are vertical lines of symbols (in contrast to horizontal lines of words). They read these symbols from right to left, but will read the left page before the right, similarly books are shelved left to right. But, if it is written horizontally, it will be read left to right – a useless fact which I find intriguing.

Photo Source: thefourhourworkweek.com

Tokyo Subway (Photo Source: thefourhourworkweek.com)

Other advice I would give to those planning a trip to:

J: Make sure you have enough time and money. Research well and look into all your options. That way you can get the most out of your trip. Definitely budget well and look for things that you can get beforehand (there is a train travel pass for those who travel to Japan- you just have to apply online).

K: Make sure you explore the modern and the traditional parts of Japan as they both have their perks.

R: You only need to spend a couple of days in Tokyo. Although there are lots of districts to explore, we actually found it was all quite similar and built up with illuminated buildings – tall modern buildings combined with Piccadilly Circus to the power 4.Instead, explore smaller cities and quieter areas for a ‘true Japan.’ I much preferred Kyoto to Tokyo. (Random fact: Kyo -to is To-kyo in reverse). Get a Japan rail pass (you can do this at the airport when you arrive in Japan).

Would you go back?
J: In a heartbeat.

K: Definitely.

R: Yes! I’ve also been told that the north of Japan is very beautiful and a bit different to southern Japan, so I would like to visit there.

Photo Source: visitjapan.co.uk

Photo Source: visitjapan.co.uk


If you liked this post, you may also like to read:

Destination: IndiaDestination: Vietnam and Destination: Bangladesh.


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Destination: Inspiration (111) 21st April 2013

Do What is right

‘Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same’

– The Fray

Why is it that when we know we should do something, we often put it off?

We are surrounded by constant reminders that time is precious and that we should seize the chance to make our own unique mark on this world before it is too late. Yet still, we procrastinate, still we possess a naivety that time will somehow stop for us.

If you were to look back in 5 years time, 10 years time, 20 years time, would you feel satisfied that you had devoted your life to something that you were passionate about or would you look back with regret at the chances you were too scared to take?

For anyone graduating from university, the world can be viewed in two ways: through one lens it’s exciting, filled with abundant possibilities. Through another lens however, the prospect of unemployment in an increasingly competitive job market can make life’s opportunities seem little more than a Utopian fantasy.

So what do we do? Everyone has different desires and interests. Some crave the fast-paced corporate life yet it is not for everyone. Others feel peer-pressured into following a certain path, I know I often do.

But what is the right decision? I guess it depends on the person.

Perhaps in some situations, it is better to take the ‘road less travelled’ and to look back at a series of stepping stones culminating in your own personal success story.

It may initially be the hardest path to follow; you may come up against backlash from friends and family advising you to stick to the more traditional routes. Ultimately though,  it’s your life to be lived, no one else’s.

Isn’t that better than tirelessly working, promising yourself you will ‘start living your dreams’ once you reach retirement?

So Today:

Take a minute to really think about what it is you are truly passionate about. What is it that ‘lights you up’?

Live as if you have already retired!

Start living TODAY, with purpose, happiness and enjoyment.

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Destination: Inspiration (109) 19th April 2013

It's not selfish

We are always taught to be kind, thoughtful and selflessto put others before ourselves.

However, how often do you look after yourself the same way you would look after a friend or loved one? Why is it always easier to encourage other people to eat healthy, go to the doctor, take time for themselves yet so hard for us take our advice?

Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in trying to help everyone else, become too involved in fixing the problems of other people, rather than focus on own needs first.

That’s not to say we should not care about others, of course we should.

Sometimes, though we must make sure that we’re not trying to avoid tackling our own problems by helping out everyone else first.

A good example is the safety advice on aeroplanes in case of emergency: ‘Put your own oxygen mask on before you can help others’.  Without your own mask & your own well-being, you will be unable to assist others, as much you try to.

So Today:  When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself. – Paul Coehlo

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Destination: Inspiration (105) 15th April 2013

Happy Bengali New Year!


“Notun Asha, Notun Rang, 

Notun Sure, Notun Gaan, 

Notun Usha, Notun Alo,

Notun ‘bochor’, Katuk Bhalo!

Shubo Noboborsho!”

Today is ‘Poila Boishak’ or the start of the Bengali New Year. 

So today:
Have new hope (notun asha) & see new light (notun alo).
Always know you can change your path at any point, change your tune for a new one (notun sure) and alter your song (notun gaan).
Every day can be seen as a new chance, ‘a new year’ (notun bocchor).
May it be enjoyed well (katuk bhalo)!
If you liked this post, you may also like:

Chai & Chats with: Roshni ChuganiChai & Chats with: Pavan Ahluwalia and Chai & Chats with: Malika Garrett. 

Destination: India and Destination: Bangladesh from Destination: Travel

Happy Durga Puja and Happy Kali Puja & Diwali from Destination: Celebration

The Asian Destination Links

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Chai & Chats with: Malika Garrett

Malika Garrett's Contribution for The Akshaya Patra Foundation Fundraiser, signed by Malika & Deepak Chopra.

Malika Garrett’s Contribution for The Akshaya Patra Foundation Fundraiser, signed by Malika & Deepak Chopra.

Successful Non-resident Indian Bengali artist, Malika Garrett, emigrated to the USA to study art in college. Since then she has combined her business experience with her creative passion and helped raise thousands of dollars for charity. OWN Ambassador, Malika, talks to The Asian Destination about collaborating with Deepak Chopra and the Akshaya Patra Foundation. We also discover how Deepak, Mastin Kipp & Oprah Winfrey have helped change her life.

Available at malikagarrett.com

Available at malikagarrett.com

TAD: You grew up in Kolkata, West Bengal in India and went to study in America before becoming the successful artist that you are today. Tell us, when did your love for art start and did you always want to pursue it as a career?

M: My love for art started as far back as I can remember. We are a family of artists, I was always around art and was taught to appreciate it from a very early age. I always loved drawing. I was forever sketching on any paper I could find. My most treasured gifts were pencils, erasers, crayons and markers! I won the class Art prize every year in my school in Kolkata. My grandparents were my first patrons and fans. They encouraged me and even bought my art! I learned service and volunteering through my art; I sold it to my grandparents at age 4 and raised money for Mother Teresa! Since then I have always volunteered and given back.

Raika Mother & Child available at www.malikagarrett.com

Raika Mother & Child available at http://www.malikagarrett.com

TAD: Did you ever think you would be an artist?

M: No, I did not ever think I would be an artist. I was leaning towards being a business woman in the corporate world, travelling or saying, ‘Order! Order!’ and being a judge! It’s funny how I ended up being a business woman and an artist. I pursued Art in college but fell into Sales while I was working in advertising at the New York Times.

TAD: What do you miss about India/Kolkata and how important is it to you to maintain a level of Indian culture/tradition in your life?

M:I miss Kolkata and India immensely- I am always going to be Indian and Bengali first. I will never forget where I came from. I owe much of my success and the making of who I am to my childhood in Kolkata. Kolkata has shaped me and made me who I am today. It is very important for me to maintain a high level of ‘Indian-ness’ as I am married to an American and have 2 children whom I want to be a part of their mother’s culture. I am always afraid they will never know their mother’s home or know what it means to be Indian. My husband and I have since birth tried to teach my children about both cultures and encourage them to explore and ask a lot of questions.


Available at malikagarrett.com

TAD: Being a non-resident Indian, sometimes integrating a mixture of traditions and cultures can be a challenge, how do you deal with it?

M: I never really found it to be a challenge, in fact quite the opposite for me, since I was exposed to the world of travel from a very early age. My multiracial children however, epitomize the synthesis of two parent philosophies in a flowing, yin-yang self. They have always known Mum to be Indian and Dad to be American. Their combination of heritage makes them world citizens. In my mind, it makes them wiser too and a lot more tolerant, curious and appreciative of diversity.

TAD: Are there any typically Bengali things you miss now that you are settled in America?

M: Yes the FOOD! Daal (lentils) Bhat, (rice) LUCHI (oily, fried flat bread) and Aludom (an Indian take on mashed potato)! I also miss the Bengali traditions: Durga Puja & Bhai Phota.

Artwork: malikagarrett.com

Artwork: malikagarrett.com

TAD: Would we be right in assuming the inspiration behind most of your art is your time spent living and visiting India?

M:YES! Very much so! My work is mostly about the people of India – their stories , their images of strength, simplicity and courage. My work is about many from India who struggle, yet despite their challenges, are happy people. That is what I try to portray through my work: that despite their challenges their lives maintain a sense of simplicity and beauty in the midst of harsh circumstances. They don’t let their situation get in the way- they make the most of it and go on with life. They have inspired me to survive, despite the many odds I have faced as well.

'Beautiful Bishnoi Women in their colourful saris and jewellery from head to toe. On the forehead they wear a "Borla" or "Rakhri", the nose ring is almost mandatory, and of which the Bishnois sport the most beautiful' - Available at malikagarrett.com

‘Beautiful Bishnoi Women in their colourful saris and jewellery from head to toe. On the forehead they wear a “Borla” or “Rakhri”, the nose ring is almost mandatory, and of which the Bishnois sport the most beautiful’ – Available at malikagarrett.com

TAD: Art can be quite subjective, how do you handle criticism and negative comments?

M: I smile and take in everything they say. Each of us is entitled to our own opinion. In many cases they have shown me things in my art work I haven’t seen myself. Every opportunity is a learning opportunity for me – good or bad.

There are no failures. Just experiences and your reactions to them.” ~Tom Krause

Artwork available at malikagarrett.com

Artwork available at malikagarrett.com

TAD: You are one of several OWN ambassadors. For those that are unaware, please could share what it means to be an OWN ambassador?

M: The role of an OWN Ambassador is to support OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), and have a vision “To Live Your Best life. As an OWN Ambassador you can participate either via Facebook, or Twitter. We participate via Twitter Parties, Tweet Ups, Book Club/Tweet Club. You get to interact with like-minded fellow ambassadors. It’s a positive support system that lifts you up. We are a community of like- minded people having informative conversations everyday and spreading joy and love.

Source: Facebook.com/TheOwnAmbassadors

Source: Facebook.com/TheOwnAmbassadors

TAD: How did you become involved with Oprah and the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)?

M: I met the group on Twitter because of our mutual love of OWN and my conversations with their producers about my personal story. If you would like to become an OWN Ambassador, follow @ownambassadors on Twitter, “Like” us on Facebook, insert #OWNAmbassador in your profile under the Bio section, and on Twitter, use #OWNAmbassadors as the hashtag. It’s that easy! As Oprah mentioned to us and the world, we are the ‘Carriers Of Light’.

Image Source: Malika Garrett

Image Source: Malika Garrett

TAD: You have worked and come into contact with a variety of prominent people including Oprah, Deepak Chopra and Mastin Kipp. These individuals, amongst many others, are known to all be committed to ‘living their best life’. What have you learnt from working with them that you could share with us?

M: Each one has taught me so many lessons that resonate with me but one that screams out is what Oprah has said over and over again- ‘Life happens not to me, but for me’!– She has really changed my life.

Also Dr. Chopra’s teaching that ‘Holding on to resentment is like holding your breath’– has made me look at forgiveness in a whole new light.

I try to remember every day:

‘We all can receive atonement through service’

‘We are all spiritual beings having a human experience’

‘Vulnerability is the Birthplace of Creativity and Change’– Brene Brown

Mastin Kipp & Malika Image Source: Malika Garrett

Mastin Kipp & Malika (Image Source: Malika Garrett)

I have also learnt not to hold myself hostage for my past and that it’s ok to be vulnerable.

As Maya Angelou said to Oprah

“ When you know better you do better!’

I am SO grateful for all of these wonderful folks you mention and others who have helped me enhance my spirit and not drain my power. Each day they have given me a new breath of life!

Deepak & Malika at The Akshaya Patra Foundation Fundraiser. Image Source: Malika Garrett

Deepak & Malika at The Akshaya Patra Foundation Fundraiser (Image Source: Malika Garrett)

TAD: You have recently been involved in a Akshaya Patra (AP) fundraiser – congratulations on its success! Could you tell us a bit about the charity and the event?

M:They are an amazing organization and I am proud and honoured to be a part of them.

Please check out their website and get involved- everyone can make a difference- it only takes $15 to feed one child for one year a hot meal served in school everyday! Founded in 2000, the Akshaya Patra Foundation’s mission is that “no child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger” and its next goal is to feed five million children daily by 2020. Currently they are feeding 1 million children every day. The foundation is a strategic intervention in education aimed at breaking the vicious and perpetual cycle of poverty.

Image Source: foodforeducation.org

Akshaya Patra Foundation (Image Source: foodforeducation.org)

TAD: How did you come to be involved in it?

M: My journey with AP started a few months back, in December, while I was in conversation with Dr. Chopra. He happened to mention that he was coming to Atlanta. He invited me to get involved with Akshaya Patra and I was thrilled. I had nothing to give but my creativity. I offered to do a collaborative painting with him for their fundraiser in Atlanta. The event was last week and was a massive success. The event raised over $400 K and my painting brought in $50K. Because of our collective efforts 26,000 children will be fed a hot meal in India. How cool is that?

Mandanganj Women and Child at www.malikagarrett.com

Mandanganj Women and Child at http://www.malikagarrett.com

TAD: This is not the first fundraiser your art has featured in, you also joined forces with Robin Raina in ‘India on Canvas’ where artwork was also auctioned for charity in order to help under-privileged children in India.

As mentioned, the volunteer and service bug bit me at a very early age in Kolkata. I was always wanting to help to give whatever I had to whoever I saw needed something. In addition to raising money for Mother Teresa’s missionaries for charity, I taught classes to the children of the household help. Robin Raina and I partnered together for ‘India on Canvas’ and then with Shashi Tharoor in 2008 for the same charity.

TAD: So, what’s next for you? Will we be seeing more of your art being exhibited soon or featuring in another worthwhile fundraising event soon?

M: No immediate plans- but that can change tomorrow! I am always excited about new collaborations and ventures.There are some smaller ones in the works but none I can name yet.

TAD: How does one get their hands on a Malika Garrett piece? Are they available for shipping?

M: My art work is on my website at www.malikagarrett.com you can also ‘like’ me on facebook.com/MalikaGhoshGarrett and follow me on twitter @MalikaGhosh

Malika’s blog: www.malikaghoshgarrett.wordpress.com/

and check out: www.malikaghoshgarrett.wix.com/malikagphotography

If you liked this post, you may also like:

Chai & Chats with: Roshni Chugani and Chai & Chats with: Pavan Ahluwalia

Destination: India and Destination: Bangladesh from Destination: Travel

Happy Durga Puja and Happy Kali Puja & Diwali from Destination: Celebration

The Asian Destination Links

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Destination: Bangladesh

Destination: Bangladesh

‘Be prepared to fall in love with Bangladesh’

Thameenah shares her personal experiences of visiting Bangladesh with The Asian Destination.

Source: bbc.co.uk

Source: bbc.co.uk

Areas visited: Sylhet, Dhaka, Chittagong.

Duration of Stay: I stay there usually around 3-4 weeks with my mum’s side of the family, in a village in Sylhet. Fubari is really picturesque, calm and beautiful.

Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Source: commons.wikimedia.org

What I like about Bangladesh: The beautiful scenery and relaxed rural villages where life is simple. Yet, I love how that contrasts with the busy, hectic hubbub of the towns. It’s just so colourful; people, animals all over the roads with all diff coloured tiny taxis and rickshaws – it’s so alive!

Source: qunar.travel

Source: qunar.travel

Favourite place: The villages, especially a tea farm I went to, years back.

Source: globosapiens.net

Source: globosapiens.net

Bangladesh in 3 words. Vibrant, tranquil and beautiful.

Source: commons.wikimedia.org2

Source: commons.wikimedia.org2

I was surprised by: the amount of people you can fit in a car!

The people are: very curious and inquisitive about us ‘foreigners’

What I miss: Everything – It’s just so different.

A strange experience I encountered:Having to have a shower with a frog in the bathroom!

Source: usaid.gov

Source: usaid.gov

One thing the guide books don’t tell you: They don’t tell you how emotionally attached you’ll become to everyone, even the helpers at home; they don’t tell you how emotional it is to see the poor people and hear their stories.

Any other advice I would give to those thinking about visiting Bangladesh: Be prepared to fall in love with Bangladesh.

Source: pays-mode.fr

Source: pays-mode.fr

Would you go back? Yes

If you liked this post, you may also like to read: Destination: India and Destination: Vietnam.


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Destination: Vietnam

Destination: Vietnam  Read all about Luke (L), Oliver (O) and Alex’s (A) Vietnamese adventures, as they share their stories with The Asian Destination. From seeing Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body in Hanoi, tasting snake and scorpion, to helping a taxi driver in Hanoi cure his hiccups – they have done it all in Vietnam.

 Areas of the country I visited:

O: -South Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon); Nha Trang (beach resort)
-Central Vietnam: Hoi An; Hue and surrounding areas in Thua Thien-Hue Province; Quang Binh Province (including Dong Hoi and Phong Nha Caves); Quang Tri Province (Dong Ha)
-North Vietnam: Hanoi; Ha Long Bay

L: Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Ha Noi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, Hai Van Pass

A: Most parts of Vietnam, from South to North

Photo: Luke Keller

Hue – Photo: Luke Keller

I stayed/travelled around for:

O: 6 weeks (and then for a week almost a year later).

L: 2 months (ish).

A: 6 weeks (twice).

Ho Chi Minh City - Photo: Luke Keller

Ho Chi Minh City – Photo: Luke Keller

Favourite monument/place that I went:

O: Ha Long Bay, but Hue Province had some incredible scenery too. War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh were also very stark and harrowing.

L: Bike trip from Hue over Hai Van Pass to Hoi An.

A: The ancient temples of Angkor Wat.

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

Describe Vietnam in 3 words:

O: Traffic, mountains, busy.

L: Bustling, different, vibrant.

A: Bustling, diverse, and serene.


I wasn’t expecting to find…

O: Such a variety of food (e.g. dog, cat, snake, scorpion, monkey brain).

L: Oreos.

A: So many friendly people.

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

My favourite part of the culture was:

O: The people in central Vietnam (very friendly and helpful); also the rich history of fending off foreign invaders (Chinese, French, Americans, Cambodians).

L: The chaos of the roads!

A: The belief aspect of the culture was very intriguing to me. There is a subtle tone of Buddhism that is noticeable in the daily lifestyle such as ceremonies to honour their ancestors, shrines by every house, and bimonthly moon celebrations on the streets.

Hoi An - Photo: Luke Keller

Hoi An – Photo: Luke Keller

I would describe the people as:

O: Both wily and kind.

L: Proud.

A: Sincere, affable, and welcoming.

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

I was surprised by: 

-How disgusting scorpion tasted/how nice snake was.
-The spectacular landscapes (some of the most impressive out of anywhere I went in South East Asia).
-Also how much litter and rubbish there was just dumped in some beautiful parts of countryside – a complete lack of environmental concern!
-How sprawled the cities are, just kind of merging with other towns through vast extensions of shacks and basic accommodation along the roadside; it isn’t clear where one city/town ends and another begins.
-How much poorer people who live on the outskirts are.
-How manic the driving is and how difficult it is to cross the road.

L: The amount of pro-American apparel.

A: How diverse the country can be. The people, the geography, climate, culture and even the language was diverse from the North to the South – even from city to city!

Ha Long Bay - Photo: Luke Keller

Ha Long Bay – Photo: Luke Keller

Something I miss about Vietnam now:

O: The weather, cycling around, the food!

L: The coffee.

A: The amazing iced coffee and coffee bars.

Pho Bo - Photo: Luke Keller

Pho Bo – Photo: Luke Keller

Any words of the native language I picked up:

O: O choi oi (Oh my heavens); o dat qua (too expensive); chi oi! (sister (girl older than you), come here); dep qua (very pretty); com cay qua (not too spicy); ‘mot, hay, ba, yo!’ (one, two, three drink); nam qua (too hot).

L: Too many to name and couldn’t spell them if I tried!!

A: Oi choi oi! (Oh my heavens).

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Luke Keller

Strange or memorable experience: 
-Man on motorbike who followed me home when I was cycling asking if he could…’service me’
-Eating dog, scorpion, snake, monkey wine, eel.
-Seeing Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed dead body in Hanoi.
-Incredibly beautiful view on beach at Nha Trang (like tropical paradise stereotype)
-Very long and arduous night buses
-Trying to help a taxi driver in Hanoi cure his hiccups (“breathe in your carbon dioxide” I said; he didn’t take my advice)

L: One of the most memorable experiences for me was going with the children to the beach.

A: Drinking snake vodka shots, and monkey wine!

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Luke Keller

One thing the guide books don’t tell you:

O: Dogs and cats are horrible so try and avoid them; they’re not usually treated like pets in Vietnam.

L: Avoid Ha Noi.

A: Always give money and receive money with both hands.

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Luke Keller

Other advice I would give to those planning a trip to Vietnam…
L: If you go to Ha Long Bay, don’t go on a weekend.


-Take things slow and expect travels to take longer than expected.

-If you plan to go for 2 weeks, double it to 4 weeks, if you plan on going to 4 countries consider exploring 2 thoroughly instead. It’s better to spend more time in one place than to rush through and not get a feel for the country/ culture.

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

Photo: Oliver Reynolds

Would you go back?

O: Yes, definitely.

L: One way flight booked February 12th !

A: Already have! But maybe again someday.

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Luke Keller

Luke, Oliver and Alex not only travelled around Vietnam, they were also involved in volunteering for the charity, Hue Help, in the summers of 2011 and 2012. Hue Help focuses on improving the health, resources and future prospects of disadvantaged children in central Vietnam.

Photo: Luke Keller

Photo: Luke Keller

For more Information on Hue Help: www.huehelp.org

Follow The Asian Destination on Twitter: @theasiand &‘Like’ us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/theasiandestination

If you liked this post, you may also like to read: Destination: India and Destination: Bangladesh.