What are Mabul Water Bungalows like?

Borneo’s Sipadan is a mecca for scuba divers, and on both our visits there we have stayed at the lovely Mabul Water Bungalows.

The first time we visited was in September 2009, for our son’s 21st birthday and we returned in August 2015 for my husband’s 60th.  The very fact we returned is testimony to the quality of the accommodation and the diving infrastructure.

The resort is super pretty, with walkways connecting all the different parts of the resort: the rooms, the main hotel dining area, the dive centre and then onto the “mainland,” which is actually a tiny island, with a few stalls and another dive resort.Malaysia_Mabul Island_P1070984

Malaysia_Mabul Island_P1070983Every room has a bike, for getting around:

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The island:Malaysia_Mabul Island_P1070989

One of the stalls, that cater mainly to visitors.Malaysia_Mabul Island_P1071013

And back to the Water Bungalows:Malaysia_Mabul Island_P1070871

Malaysia_Mabul Water Bungalows_3185It is all charming, beautifully maintained and staffed with friendly co-operative staff.

There were a couple of changes in the 6 years between our visits, not to the standard of the rooms nor the resort per se, but 2 changes that should definitely be noted.

In 2009, a majority of the guests were European and virtually everyone was a diver.

Fast forward to 2015, and the situation was very different.  The majority of the guests were mainland Chinese, most of whom were not divers, but exuberant (and rather noisy) snorkellers. Unless you dive on the house reef, close to the resort, the obsessively-selfie-taking Chinese (many of whom seem to swim fully clothed and wearing rubber rings and arm bands) are not an issue.  The menu in 2015 seemed to be a little more Chinese than I’d remembered it from 2009, but I guess that’s inevitable.

It’s also popular with Chinese honeymooners…IMG_2205The second change was the presence, very discreetly, of soldiers.  I used to go for a run every evening, up and down the connecting wooden walkways, one of which juts out into the sea, and one night when I went out later than usual, I came across a group of soldiers.

There has been, sad to report, kidnapping incidents – and worse – involving Abu Sayyaf (a terrorist outfit operating out of the southern Philippines) and these soldiers are now stationed at Mabul to protect staff and guests.  They were very discreet, and always friendly, but you have to know that there is a certain element of risk.

The diving was excellent – that is not under the control of the hotel, of course, but their boats, dive-masters, boat crew, dive centre staff were, without exception, friendly and competent.

On the days when you get to dive on Sipadan, the boat leaves very early, but there is always a light self-service breakfast and – oh joy of joys –  good coffee available, even at dawn :IMG_2222There’s even a house moggy to keep you company.

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We had 2 memorable stays there, both for significant birthdays…which is why being charged Ringit 15 for a broken glass was a silly irritant.  When you have spent a lot of money – the resort is not cheap – to be charged for a broken glass…it wasn’t the money, obviously, just – quite frankly – the pettiness.

But that would absolutely not stop us from re-visiting, nor from totally recommending it.

Be sure to check the security situation before you go, and then make your own decision, balancing the fabulous diving with the possible safety issues.IMG_2128I can’t honestly tell you about rates, because they are a function of season and then there are the diving costs to add on.

Here is the link to their website, where you can enquire about rates.

We paid our own way both times and I did not tell anyone there that I blog.

WAR DOGS

“War Dogs” is a fun, quirky film (though with more F*** words than you can shake a stick at) and – absolutely fascinatingly – a film based largely on true events.

2 youngsters – Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz –  become international arms dealers, exploiting a U.S. government initiative that allows businesses to bid on military contracts.  They scour the internet, find the contracts posted online – all in the name of transparency, bid for the contracts, source the merchandise from some of the planet’s murkiest corners, and become overnight millionaires.

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And this is all absolutely true.

To quote the film’s director, Todd Phillips: “To me the guys are heroes…The government knew that they couldn’t source 100m rounds of AK ammo in the middle of a drought after two Iraq wars. So they went to these two kids knowing they were gonna source it in a shady way, and as long as nobody knows, wink wink we’re cool. For me the film is an indictment on the US government and their process of procurement, and the guys are kind of awesome.”

And this is what makes the film such fun.

These 2 youngsters, who rock up to meetings with government officials stoned out of their minds, are super likeable, and you are clearly gunning for them. (Yes, agreed.  Bad pun.)

Miles Teller (David Packouz) and Jonah Hill (Efraim Diveroli) are both excellent, playing the young, hustling, “bro” lifestyle to perfection, though Jonah Hill does tend to steal the limelight.
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The real David Packouz even has a small part in the film.

Well worth watching.

And I learned a little piece of recent, crazy American history.

PARTITION Stories of separation by Sonam Kalra

Currently this is, perforce, a Delhi-NCR-centric review, but one hopes that this latest show by Sonam Kalra will travel the country and beyond…

“Partition Stories of Separation” was performed for the first time at Delhi’s India Habitat Centre in front of a sold-out audience this weekend.

A show devoted to the trauma and sorrow of Partition was never going to be easy viewing and there were moments of great sadness.  Great, heart-wrenching sadness.  When the elderly Sikh spoke about the death of his sister, I could hardly breathe, it was so raw and painful.

But this pain, which Sonam Kalra talks about in the programme, cannot –  and must not – be avoided or ignored:

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This trauma is part of the DNA of the subcontinent and it has to be commemorated and shared, especially with the gradual passing of the brave generations who lived through the horrors of Partition.

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Through song, and poetry, and interviews with amazing people who lived through Partition, this traumatic period of history is brought to life by Sonam Kalra, Salima Raza and Sonam’s team of amazing musicians.

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But for me, what moved me the most, was not so much the looking backwards at history, but the positive looking forward towards peace and reconciliation.

And here the energy and thrust of a younger generation with a different mindset was in evidence.

I loved the inter-active feeling of the show –  from old fashioned postcards on which we were asked to write our message of peace starting with the positive words “When we meet…”, to the hashtags to be used on social media to build a dialogue with “The Other Side.”

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There were cute, quirky touches, such as a “postbox” for the postcards for Pakistan.

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We were even given pens, ensuring that there we all had no excuse not to write.

A pile of old luggage in the entrance to the auditorium spoke volumes.

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I hope that this show travels the length and breadth of India, and more than anything else that it travels to “The Other Side.”

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Shabash to Sonam Kalra for giving voice to painful memories, but than anything for presenting the pain with so much love and, most importantly, hope.

Travels with my coffee mug

If you are a coffee-holic & a bit of a coffee snob to boot, then this review is tailor made for you.  Especially if you travel/hike/climb/trek.  And even more so if you can’t stand instant coffee.

Wearied by frankly revolting coffee in so many (otherwise amazing) places, uncaffeineated at the start of days in (otherwise amazing) remote parts of the globe, this gift, below, from a fellow coffee-holic & trekking friend was beyond perfect.

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It’s a thermal portable coffee plunger mug from Kathmandu – the company, not the city.

So all you need to do is pack a bag of ground coffee, get boiling water from your hotel/camp cook/boil it yourself (hey, you can figure this bit out, right?) and Bob’s your uncle.

The only teensy flaw in this jug is that when your pour out the coffee, it leaks a little from the top, but that is such a small price to pay for having one’s morning caffeine fix that it hardly counts.  I checked the website just now, when sharing the link with you and, guess what I found?

  • Lid is not completely spill proof

There you are, then.

In the 3 years I have had this mug, it has travelled all over the place with me, since it weighs virtually nothing and saves my life every morning.  It’s tough, and in 3 years in backpacks it has precisely one scratch, and I’m still trying to puzzle out where it came from.

Together, we have been up to the Himalayas (I live in India), we have been climbing in Ladakh, to Africa (where we used to live) to Myanmar, Sri Lanka.

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Have Kathmandu coffee mug, will travel is now my new mantra.

Indian Summers Season 2

I have no excuse.  No excuse whatsoever.

A little under a year ago, in this very same blog, I shared with you my thoughts on Indian Summers, a TV drama that…well, let’s just say underwhelmed me totally.

Hey, why mince words?

I thought “Indian Summers” was absolutely terrible.  Truly terrible, despite all that money thrown at it.

Here are a couple of relevant stats (courtesy of the thinking man’s paper, the Daily Mail)

  • Indian Summers is Channel 4’s equivalent to ITV’s Downton Abbey
  • It’s the most expensive drama commissioned in the channel’s history

Anyway, obviously when Season 2 came out, yes, of course, we HAD to watch it, just to see if it was as bad as season 1.

Actually, I approached Season 2 with the hope that perhaps the good folk over at Channel 4 had put a bit more thought & attention to detail into Season 2, and corrected some of the more glaring mistakes/errors/inconsistencies.

Whatever.

No such luck.

Season 2 was every bit as bad as Season 1.

So compulsively bad in fact, that, hooked like addicts on the sheer awfulness of it all, we simply has to watch it right to the weird, rushed, inconclusive end.

But that was the end, I gather.

Channel 4 has mercifully pulled the plug on what should have been a fantastic series and which was, on the contrary, a total disappointment.

I won’t bore you all with repeating the litany of inappropriateness from Series 1 – the locale, the people – because the series is now over.

When the end finally came, I realised that there was not one single major character about whom I cared.

Not one.

Ralph Wheelan?  Nah.  He got his come-uppance.

His wife? Nope.

His sister?  No. Despite her horrid, spivvy husband and her inter-racial love affair, Alice remained boringly one dimensional throughout.

Cynthia? Shudder.  What a truly appalling character.  I cannot for a minute imagine that in colonial Shimla, in the 30s, a woman as common as Cynthia would have called the social shots.

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Tell you what, though  – what I’d love more than anything else is to be proved wrong here, with someone promptly telling me that Julie Walter’s character was based on a real-live person, and then I can re-evaluate the whole thing.

The only nice Brit is that young Scot, Ian McLeod.  And he turns “native”, so there you are.

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On the Indian side…well…they are all portrayed more sympathetically then the Brits, but they are by and large so totally stereotyped.

Roshan Seth is great, and one of the few truly good actors in the series.

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Ayshsa Kala’s character is appealing, and she has the most winning smile and sparkly eyes.

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Way more pizzazz than her brother.images (1)

Don’t get me started on Art Malik as a Maharajah wearing costume jewellery.

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Anyway, it’s all over, a series that was addictive because of its awfulness.

PS: And clearly Channel 4’s answer to “Downton Abbey” it was not.

How good is the Anker Solar Charger?

It’s very good, to answer my own question.

I have nothing but praise for the Anker portable solar charger.

I bought it before I went climbing in the Himalayas 2 summers ago, and it worked brilliantly, charging mobile phones mainly, both mine and my fellow team member’s.  Even though there was no connectivity for most of the climb in Ladakh, it meant I could use my phone to record video clips.

Some days, I attached the charger to my daypack (as in the photo below, which is not mine.  It’s from the internet) & I even charged my phone on the go.  Initially I did worry about the charger getting scratched on boulders (it didn’t, of course).

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Once we arrived in camp in the afternoons, out would come my charger and it would sit quietly there, as we all unpacked and set up camp.

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Super impressed and it is now a regular on all outdoors-y type trips, where power could be a problem.

Here are the charger’s vital stats:

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It has 2 USB charging points.

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It weighs in at 14.7oz / 417g so isn’t a liability in your day pack.

Totally recommended.

No one at Anker knows that I blog.

I paid for the charger myself, and bought it online.  As you can do now:

All the photos are from the internet.

AND…as I was looking for photos online to illustrate this review, I found this one, and learned a useful tip, which will be put to good use later this summer, when I’m back in Himalayas – hurray!

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Reviewing the Kalenji hydration backpack

Running in Delhi’s killer summer heat means that hydration is beyond a must.  It is, without exaggeration, a lifesaver.

I usually run with a handheld water bottle, but it doesn’t hold enough for the searing temperatures these days, so I have switched to using my Kalenji 2L backpack, and what an all round improvement.

Firstly, I have way more water available, but almost as importantly, because I’m not gripping a bottle, I am running more relaxed.

I set out every morning at about 5.30/5.45 at which time I don’t need my cap, so into the pack it goes.

A small snack – inside the pack.

My mobile phone goes into a zipped compartment, accessible from both sides, and the head-phones have their own exit.  Way safer than having the phone in my hand.

Can’t think why I haven’t been using this backpack every day.  Certainly makes for more streamlined running.

Totally recommended.

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I bought the backpack myself, and told no one that I blog.

Actually I lie. Technically, one of my running group, Samiksha Mehra, bought it for me from Decathlon in NOIDA. (All of which is to say that no one had/has any idea that I blog!)


MOTHER’S DAY (on Mother’s Day)

This is a cute, feel-good, happy-ending film that belies the truly awful reviews it got.  Check the one in Time magazine –  ouch, it’s harsh.

My daughter Anjulie took me to see it today, on Mother’s Day, and, given the reviews, we went expecting the worst.

It is fluffy, entertaining, doesn’t make you think, made me cry, and all ends happily, so what can be wrong with that, pray tell?  Admittedly, we both agreed that had it NOT been Mother’s day, we probably wouldn’t have gone to see it.

But we did, and we enjoyed our afternoon together.

Jennifer Aniston looks good.

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Ditto the gorgeous Kate Hudson.

Atlanta, GA - Actress Kate Hudson is all smiles as she films on set in humid Atlanta for her new film "Mother's Day". Camera crews were spotted filming scenes at a park. AKM-GSI September 28, 2015 To License These Photos, Please Contact : Steve Ginsburg (310) 505-8447 (323) 423-9397 steve@akmgsi.com sales@akmgsi.com or Maria Buda (917) 242-1505 mbuda@akmgsi.com ginsburgspalyinc@gmail.com

Julia Roberts is totally under-used as a character, and has a truly awful hair do that does nothing for her.  Until she smiles.

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There is a slight Indian connection which we all appreciated here in Delhi.

Yup.

That’s about it, really.

Not great cinema by any stretch of the imagination, but perfect for a Mother’s Day outing with one’s daughter.

THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY

Hmmm…

How strange to leave the cinema after watching the divine (& still dishy) Jeremy Irons and that nice young Dev Patel, and yet feel a little underwhelmed.

“The man who knew infinity” is a lovely film, a nice film, but not, I fear, a great film.

It is visually gorgeous, and the period detail is perfect.

Lovely clothes, sweeping vistas, India looking  –  well, very much the way India looks in this kind of film, Trinity College Cambridge looking drop dead fantastic (and I say that as an Oxford graduate)…it’s all visually smashing.

It’s just that the central plot –  the relationship between a young Indian genius and his Cambridge professor – is, well, pretty much just that.  The relationship between S. Ramanujan  (Dev Patel) and G. H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons) IS the film, with any other subplots hardly making any waves.  Ramanujan’s marriage, the outbreak of World War I are there, strands in the narrative, but they could just as easily not have been there, to be perfectly honest.  The story would hardly have been impacted.

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Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the film and absolutely loved the look of it.  It’s just that it wasn’t one of those sweep-you-off-your-feet kind of films, and I had so hoped it would be.

Jeremy Irons is superb, and totally dominates the film.  Every scene he is in, is yet another testimony to how wonderful an actor he is.

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Dev Patel is nice, but is Dev Patel being an Indian with a sing-song-y accent.  He sounded just like his character in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and I don’t think he should have.  I liked Shazad Latif’s accent way more. And I think he is underused as a character, by the way (Chandra Mahalanobis, that is).

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So yes, nice film.

Beautifully filmed.

But I feel it could have been a wonderful film.  And it isn’t.

Putting the Adidas Supernova Glide 6 running shoes through their paces

In the two short years in which I’ve been running, I have discovered many things.  Many, many things, and all of them good things.

Except, perhaps, the habit I have of getting too fond of my running shoes, which means that the arrival of a lovely new pair is always accompanied by sadness and regret at the passing of the old pair…

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Thus it was that when my lovely Adidas Climachill Cosmic Boost began to wear out, I had to take the inevitable “old & new” photo.

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I loved my Climachill, and did a follow-up review, just so I could talk about them again.

But time (and daily running) take their toll on shoes, and so enter a new pair of Adidas shoes into my life.

And, yes, how lovely and bright and springy they look, compared to my old ones…that disloyalty again!  I really do love the bright colours, completely cheerfully OTT bright.

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The Supernova Glide 6 are sturdier shoes than the Climachill, which means that they instantly felt more cushion-y and, yes, springier than their predecessors, without ever feeling heavy, especially after the super-light Climachill.

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They are made of that nice mesh, that feels easy on the feet.  In my case, as I have big ungainly feet, the mesh makes putting the shoes on nice and easy, and they feel instantly comfortable.  Not at all tight, nor in need of being broken in, even from Day 1.

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Lacing is easy :

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The cushioning is good and has lasted well, despite heavy usage, with almost daily running.

I started the year wearing these shoes, on 1st January exactly, and have run some 752 km in them thus far, including my first ever full marathon.  And then my second ever full marathon.  So, sadly, in exactly 3 months these beauties are now up for replacement.  Overdue, in fact.

They have travelled well and often in less than 3 months, running on many surfaces, from the roads of Mumbai and Delhi for my 2 marathons, to the beach in Sri Lanka last week, and the pavements and parks of London:

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Great shoes, that don’t feel tired or worn out, despite their 752km.

Would I recommend them?
Definitely.

Would I buy them again?

Yes, indeed.

Will I get all sentimental about retiring them?

Oh most definitely.