Earth-friendly fashion, food and travel

Last week was Earth Day. I usually don’t pay much attention to such “days” because most of them are mere eyewash, but Earth Day got me thinking. Can I really make a difference in building a better future for a greener planet?

I assessed my passions (fashion, food and travel) and I figured- sure, I can make an impact, and quickly sat down to make a rough list. At the end of an hour, I re-read the list and scratched out a few unfeasible ideas. But a handful of practical and pragmatic earth-friendly ideas survived. An inner voice said, “Hey, this can work!” So I decided to take the list public and share it with you all.

Here goes:

Fashion

Biba kurtas

Shop within a limit. And I don’t mean your credit card limit. Plan your shopping and decide what you need to buy before you head to the mall. Even with just a dozen tops and half a dozen pants, you can be trendy and stylish. Sure, end of season sales are tempting and a wonderful excuse to buy the orange top or pink dress on your wishlist, but do you really need Blouse No. 52 in your wardrobe? Instead, do a thorough wardrobe cleanse over a long weekend, then only add new clothes and accessories to replace an older one that’s worn out.

Recycle and reuse. I’ve been hearing this mantra for years now, but never followed it. Late 2014, I reused my mom’s wedding dupatta with a new ensemble and made a modern-looking blouse to match her traditional sari, I realized that this formula works. You can transform a large silk scarf into a top or stitch neutral-coloured sari blouses to wear with well-preserved saris. Besides, you get bragging rights to declare, “I’m wearing vintage!”

pink dupatta

Buy locally-made clothes. Here’s how the supply chain of most fast fashion brands (like Zara) usually work: Clothes are manufactured in Country A, then sent to home country and dispatched around the world. Or the garments are shipped directly to warehouses or stores in Countries B, C, D and so on. Working on tight deadlines and short turnaround times, manufacturers often dispatch the merchandise via air. With hundreds of manufacturers and dozens of countries, you can imagine the amount of emissions a single brand’s business could generate. A simple thumb rule (broad generalization): the shorter the distance a garment travels, the more planet-friendly it is likely to be in terms of emissions. Buying clothes made in another part of the world may often be the easier (read: cheaper) option, but do try to opt for a local brand when possible. India has dozens of clothing and accessories brands that source and manufacture locally. “Made in India” seems appealing, doesn’t it?

Buy good quality clothes and accessories. You bought a cute pair of chappals from Linking Road and a stylish cotton kurta from Lajpat market for a steal. Both get worn out in a few months. And so you want to buy new chappals and another cotton kurta. Instead, how about you pay a bit more and buy chappals and a kurta that last longer? This way you generate less waste and save money in the long run. Think of each purchase as an investment of sorts, and calculate the returns in terms of how long it will make you happy. True, better quality may often mean more strain on your wallet, but when you’re buying fewer clothes and shopping less often, the extra bucks you spend are actually working to save you money in the future.

Food

Fresh local produce Chaing Mai Thailand

Eat local produce as much as you can. Of course, that’s not always possible. You don’t get great India-made feta or miso paste, but local fruits and vegetables are always the freshest and have travelled much shorter distances to reach you. Besides, seasonal fruits and vegetables are often delicious. So, if you have a choice, buy local.

Carry your own shopping bag. A cloth or jute bag or locally made basket is super handy in the market. My granny had gifted my mom couple of hand-woven baskets several years ago which she still uses. Myanmar has some lovely woven baskets as well, and I’ve bought not one, but two of them!

Use cloth instead of plastic and paper. Replace kitchen tissue with cloth towels to dry pots, pans and plates in the kitchen, or wipe your hands. There are some “highly absorbent” options which you can use for several days before throwing them for a wash. (Yes, I use just such a towel!). And oh, I prefer to use a handkerchief instead of paper tissue.

Reuse (yes, again!). I saw bamboo straws in Cambodia, and regret not buying them. They were reusable and very cute! Conscious foodies often carry reusable cutlery such as forks and chopsticks instead of using the disposable ones found in takeaway joints or fast food restaurants.

Travel

Boat ride Copenhagen

Use public transport. This one’s a no-brainer. And besides, if you’re using a local bus or public ferry you’ll get a better feel of local life. Better still, cycle around town.

Carry a reusable water bottle. Invest in a sturdy good-sized water bottle. In several countries, you can fill up your bottle with tap water (especially across Europe) or from a water dispenser in airports or malls. I carry my reusable water bottle all the time- when I’m going shopping or to a movie, so I’m not tempted to buy water or cold drinks, usually sold in paper cups, tin cans or plastic bottles. Besides reducing possible wastage, I avoid the extra calories in cold drinks. 🙂

Avoid takeaway. Takeaway meals are usually packed in plastic bags and cutlery, thermocol boxes and disposable plastic boxes for sauces etc. Instead, try to relax and enjoy your meal at the restaurant. You’ll savour the food experience a lot more.

Indian thali food

Book online. And don’t print your ticket, if it isn’t required. Save it on your phone or tablet instead. There are several museums, airlines, theatres, trains and other touristy places that don’t need a paper ticket. We once travelled in an overnight train from Rome to Palermo with the ticket on our iPad without a problem. And when I booked a ticket on the IRCTC website from Vapi to Mumbai, all the TT asked for was my ID proof. Most hotels are fine with electronic booking vouchers as well.

Carry e-copies. When my mother and I first travelled abroad in the late 1990s, we were advised to carry multiple copies of our passports, visas and tickets in case something went wrong. Now we save the scanned copies of our documents on email and in our phone’s photo gallery, so it’s accessible even without an internet connection. Do the same. Save paper and ink!

Stay earth-friendly and chic!

Breakfast: Totally Rad Leftover Idlis

Ever since I introduced a set of idli molds in my Yangon kitchen last November, rice idlis and homemade slow-cooked sambhar have become an important weekend ritual. By important, only these two dishes can be served at Sunday lunch.

Our ritual is something like this: on Saturday evening S and I head to our friendly and familiar neighbourhood market. (Despite being very “Burmese”, Indian ingredients are not so difficult to find here.) We know the couple who stocks curry leaves in their stall and the trio of sisters who have drumstick (really!). We buy the ingredients for sambhar: curry leaves, a few ladyfingers, a carrot, some french beans, a couple tomatoes, a quartered pumpkin and S’s favourite, a drumstick. While watching TV that night, or just before we go off to bed, we divide the prep activities and chop the vegetables. I wake up a bit early on Sunday and soak the toor dal for couple of hours. After a light breakfast and quick shower, I begin preparing the sambhar, first pressure cooking the dal, then cooking it with the vegetables and spices. Finally, I add the tadka.

The idlis, though, are mostly S’s job. While I step out for couple hours for a Spanish lesson to the outskirts of Yangon, S prepares the batter, double boiler pot and molds. He often makes a few extra idlis for next day’s breakfast as well.

This week we had a few more idlis leftover than usual. Three, to be precise. Not wanting to throw them away, I vaguely remembered eating mini masala idlis at a South Indian buffet in Mumbai several years ago. The mini idlis had been cooked with spices and were bright red, quite spicy and delicious.

With this vivid food memory playing on my mind, I thought I’d create my own version of masala idlis. Using standard Indian breakfasts like poha and upma as inspiration, I began to play with some simple ideas and conjured up a dish.

I prepared the ingredients Sunday night, knowing I would feel super lazy next morning. And so I did. Luckily, this breakfast dish took just a few minutes to cook and I was relishing it soon enough.

Leftover idlis Indian breakfast recipe

Generously spiced, delightfully colourful, crumbly and crunchy at the same time, I’m happy to say that the leftover idli experiment was a success. I’ve dubbed this dish Totally Rad Leftover Idlis.

In this recipe, sweet onions and sour-ish tomatoes provide an easy base for the dish, while capsicum (green bell peppers) add the crunch that I like, a perfect contrast with the soft idlis. The secret spice blend (okay, it’s not really a secret, see recipe below) will wake up your taste buds (as they did mine). I was very tempted to top the dish off with grated cheese, but I’m glad I didn’t. It would have messed up the uniquely Indian flavours of my Totally Rad Leftover Idlis. Instead I had it with a glass of orange juice.

Leftover idlis Indian breakfast recipe

Of course, I don’t think this is an authentic way of eating idlis, but like a good homemaker (how I hate that word!), I don’t like throwing away perfectly edible home-cooked food. And this recipe turned out to be a quick, fuss-free way of using up idlis in the fridge.

I tweeted a photo to S, who was away for work. I’m sure he’s going to want Totally Rad Leftover Idlis for breakfast next Monday.

PS- I’ve used stevia in this recipe because sugar is banned in my home (yep, we’re crazy health nuts). Feel free to add a bit of regular sugar instead.

Recipe: Totally Rad Leftover Idlis

Prep time: 7 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 teaspoon oil

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

A pinch of asafoetida (aka hing)

1 dry red chilli (whole)

3/4 teaspoon urad dal

3-4 curry leaves

1 small green chilli chopped

1small onion chopped

1small tomato chopped

1 small or half a large green capsicum chopped

A pinch of stevia/ sugar (optional, only if tomato is too tart)

1 teaspoon sambhar powder

Red chilli powder to taste (optional)

4 leftover idlis- chopped or broken with hand into bite-sized pieces

Small handful coriander leaves to garnish

Serves 1-2 people

Method

Heat oil in a small frying pan or wok.

Add mustard seeds. When they begin to splutter, add asafoetida, curry leaves, urad dal and dry whole red chilli.

Fry for couple of minutes, then add green chillies and onions, and cook till the onions begin to soften (we don’t need to brown them). This should take around five minutes.

Add tomatoes and cook till the tomatoes lose their tartness. If they seem too sour (from aroma and taste), add a pinch of stevia (or sugar).

Add the sambhar powder and red chilli powder (I skipped the latter because the green chillies in Myanmar are VERY HOT), along with salt.

Add capsicum and mix well. If you’d like to leave the capsicum crunchy, stir for just a couple of minutes. For softer texture, cook a bit longer.

Add the chopped idlis and mix till coated with the spices.

Switch off the flame, serve in a bowl or plate, and garnish with fresh coriander leaves.

Enjoy!

Leftover idlis Indian breakfast recipe

Myanmar’s beauty secret

Walking through the streets of Yangon, I see painted faces. Not the kind smiling down from giant signboards advertising vitamin supplements, but real people faces. Painted. Women young and old, little boys and girls and (some) men sport the paint like it’s part of them, as natural as wearing clothes or applying moisturiser. In the sundrenched streets, in the bustling wet market, at the airconditioned supermarket, in packed buses, I see cheeks and foreheads sporting circles and streaks of ochre, like a sort of war paint.

Myanmar girl in Thanaka

This “war paint” is thanaka or thanakha (pronounced tuh-naa-kaa), and it functions as a potent weapon to protect Myanmar people from the harsh sun.

Myanmar folk believe thanaka is a wonderful antidote to the harmful effects of too much sun. It keeps their skin de-tanned, safe and non-greasy.

Made from the bark of the wood apple tree that grows across Myanmar, thanaka paste has a gentle fragrance that vaguely reminds me of Indian sandalwood. Market vendors sell chopped pieces of thanaka bark at different prices, based on size. You choose your bark, take it home, and pound it into a paste with some water in a special grinder called kyout pin (pronounced chow-pi-ye).

Here’s the bark I spotted in my neighbourhood wet market (Hledan Zei):

Wood apple or thanaka bark Myanmar

And this is the grinder (kyout pin, picture courtesy Myat Su San)

Thanaka grinder Myanmar

If you don’t own the grinder (like me) or don’t know how to make the paste, you buy ready thanaka paste from the supermarket (like me). It’s less effective than home-made thanaka but still works, according to this experiential feature in Myanmar Times.

Thanaka in Yangon supermarket

Thanaka in Myanmar supermarket

Take some paste with a spatula or fingers, apply on your cheeks and voila! You’re ready to soak up the sun. You can also apply thanaka on your forehead, arms or any body part exposed to the sun. Some artistic Myanmar moms paint flowers on their daughters’ cheeks with thanaka. So cute!

Thanaka can stay on all day, but I’ve only used it for short periods of time, and my skin feels radiant, soft, bright and fresh after washing it off. Most importantly, I don’t get a post-sun headache and my skin feels cool when I’m in the sun. So yes, I believe it works. And the nearly blemish-free, bright skin I’ve seen on most Myanmar people is proof enough for me.

When people ask me what thanaka is, I say it’s sunblock, sunscreen, gentle exfoliator, face pack, cream, all rolled into one. You only need to try it to feel its magic!

Sunday Street Stories: Mumbai’s Big Ben

On a hazy winter-like day in Mumbai, as busy officegoers crossed the maidan (grounds) at Churchgate, the Rajabai  clock tower rises conspicuously high above the crowds, the coconut trees and 20th century buildings.

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Inspired by London’s Big Ben, the clock tower was built in the Venetian-Gothic style in the 1870s. Financed by stock broker Premchand Roychand and designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, Rajabai Clock Tower in the Mumbai University campus has been one of my favourite buildings in the city. With its quiet Gothic elegance, the tower is a reminder that the city’s heritage are treasures that can last centuries, if only we care for them.

Location: Churchgate, Mumbai
Date: January 29, 2016
Device: Nexus 5

Sunday Street Stories: Yangon’s skaters

In my first weekend in Yangon last June, I was on my way to the mall supermarket for groceries when we passed the Hledan bridge (more like an overpass). Under the bridge were a bunch of young men on roller skates and skate boards. I was fascinated, having seen skateboarding only in some Hollywood movies.

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A few months ago, the skaters were  campaigning for a dedicated skate park. With crowdsourced funding, the park will soon be built in Yangon. Till then, skaters and skateboarders come to the overpass to practise and learn. A fun way to spend an evening.

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Picture taken on: December 4, 2015
Location: Yangon, Myanmar
Device: Nexus 5

Drool-worthy sports shoes are here!

There’s been a sudden surge of sports shoes at home recently. Between S and me, we have five pairs of various brands. Throughout my 13 years of schooling, I only had one sports pair: white canvas with laces, which had to be polished with thick and gooey white polish. We called them “tennis shoes”.

The few times I did go shopping for sports shoes, we’d fix a budget in mind and make a trip to Vama at Peddar Road. I’d try on a few pairs and then the most comfortable and “sensible” white pair was selected.

And then, for many years, I didn’t really need to buy sports shoes (I’ve never been a sporty or running or jogging or walking person). The sports shoes came out of the cupboard for holidays, vacations, picnics etc. And the shoes remained white and nice (and boring) for a long time. And then last year my white Nike pair (with a blue sswoosh) gave in, after several years of faithful service and support, and it was time to go sports shoe shopping again. I had started walking and jogging a bit and wanted good, no, great shoes. But when I went to the mall to take a look, I was blown away. I saw a mind-boggling range of sports shoes- different colours, textures, designs, some with fancy names, some with cool technology… and with several different uses. Shoes to wear with jeans, shoes for running, for walking, for tennis, for football, for fancy clothes… I was spoilt for choice. I finally settled for Reebook’s ZPump shoes in pink. Yes, PINK. And they look great, fit wonderfully, and have been holding me up for very long walks and runs.

Meanwhile, S needed to replace his old Puma pair. Again, white shoes, red logo. He’d decided to take up running (completed his first half marathon last week, yay!). S has bought three pairs since last year, two black and one blue, and he’s already looking for the next pair.

The transformation of our shoe rack (and our fitness level) has been incredible. We now own a colourful shoe rack filled with awesome-looking sports shoes.

Here are some awesome sports shoes lining up the stores these days, each with something “new” to offer, guaranteed to make you stand out in a crowd.

Colour crazy: Boys, make a statement with these black and gold MetaRun shoes from ASICS.

Asics MetaRun

Texture play: The two-toned mesh of the Skechers GORun Vortex shoes look super dynamic on the field.

Skechers GoRUN Vortex

Sporty but feminine: Ladies, here’s the purple sports shoe we’ve all been dreaming of! From Power Shoes (available at Bata).

Power by Bata Trail Zion (3) - INR 3499

Stars and stripes: When textures and colours abound, can prints be far behind? These patterned sneakers from Vans’ Americana collection will go great with jeans.

Vans Americana sneakers collection

High on tech: You just can’t go wrong with Reebok’s ZPump Fusion shoes (I own a pair!). The shoe molds itself to my foot and use the pump for cushioning and no-pain running.

Reebok ZPump Fusion - Rs 10,999

Which sports shoes are you planning to buy?

A sweet corn soup story

Sweet corn soup was my favourite dish at Chinese restaurants when I visited with my family two decades ago. There was something about the soup that appealed to my cousins and me- it wasn’t spicy but it wasn’t bland either, it didn’t look intimidating like some other Indian Chinese(?) dishes, it was served at most restaurants we went to, it tasted perfect, and most importantly, our parents approved of it.

But alas, the yummy sweet corn soup run ended a few years ago. Almost everywhere I went, a well-made vegetable sweet corn soup became elusive. Our favourite restaurants shut down, chefs changed, or perhaps nobody cared about the humble sweet corn soup anymore. I had to switch to manchow soup with the fried noodles, which isn’t bad, but it isn’t as comforting as my favourite sweet corn soup. And, hot and sour soup is too strong on flavour for me.

Sweet corn soup chicken and veg

Anyways, when I began to cook early 2014, I realized the world was my oyster (heh!), and I could cook (almost) everything I wanted at home. When the Mumbai monsoon arrived few months later, I began seeking out soups again (no fried pakoras for me, please!). And when I stumbled across a can of cream-style corn in the supermarket one day, I knew it was time to cook myself sweet corn soup just the way I liked it.

So one rainy Saturday S and I set out to cook sweet corn soup for the first time. The ingredients were all gathered, the preps were done (chopped veggies for me, chicken pieces for him), and the kitchen set-up all ready (separate dishes for cooking my vegetarian and his chicken version). Time to begin. S was tasked with opening the can of cream-style corn. We didn’t have a can opener at the time, so he used a knife to prise it open. BIG MISTAKE. A tiny slip led to a nasty cut, and soon S’s hand turned red, and his gushing blood was making tiny puddles on the kitchen counter.

First, I tried not to throw up (luckily I didn’t), then I panicked. Finally I called S’s dad (he’s a doctor) and we were on our way to his clinic, both in our chappals and wrinkled shorts, my uncombed hair tied up in an ugly knot, and just enough money in hand for the rickshaw ride. Meanwhile, it continued to rain, and the cut continued to ooze, and I continued to feel sick, but managed to hold on to my breakfast.

After a thorough cleaning, a roll of bandage and a tetanus shot, we were finally done. We got hold of a can opener on the way home. With so much loss of time (and S’s blood), neither of us were in the mood for sweet corn soup anymore. And neither of us wanted to cook. But lunch had to be had, even if it was terribly late. And so we used the can opener, poured out the cream-style corn, and began to cook. While I insisted S not bother with the cooking, he hovered around, and our first attempt at homemade sweet corn soup was delicious.

Sweet corn soup chicken and veg

The first sip transported me back to Chinese Room, an Indian Chinese restaurant we loved. The only things missing were a light brown tablecloth, fading upholstery and kindly waiters. Ah, sheer nostalgia!

Sweet Corn Soup (Vegetarian and chicken versions)

Ingredients:

1 tin sweet corn (cream style)

Vegetable or chicken stock (400 ml)

A large handful of chopped veggies of your choice (I used carrots, french beans, spring onions)

OR 200 grams boneless chicken, chopped into pieces

1 egg (optional)

1 tablespoon white vinegar*

1 teaspoon light soy sauce*

3 tablespoon corn flour

1 tablespoon of cooking oil (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Serves 4-6

Method:

Pour out the contents of the sweet corn tin, add two glasses of water and bring to a boil. Let it simmer for 5 minutes, then add your vegetable or chicken stock with chopped chicken or vegetables (except spring onions) and let it cook.

Chicken will take at least 15-20 minutes to cook, while the vegetables will be done quicker (they should still have a bite and not be completely soft).

Ten minutes after adding the chicken, break an egg over the pot and quickly stir it through the soup.

Add vinegar and soy sauce, and add oil gradually.

Meanwhile, mix cornflour with a small bowl of water. When the chicken and vegetables are almost cooked (put a fork through them to determine), add the cornflour-water mixture and let the soup cook for another five minutes. The soup will then thicken. (You can add water or the cornflour mixture to thin or thicken the soup to your liking.)

Add salt and pepper to taste, along with spring onions. Serve hot.

Notes and Tips:

  1. Add vinegar and soy sauce according to your taste- some folks like it sour, some like it more umami.
  2. Be careful with the amount of salt you use, since soy sauce already has a salty flavour (umami).
  3. Those who like it spicy can add a dash of Chinese chilli or schezuan sauce.
  4. You can make this without cream-style corn, if it’s not available or you prefer using fresh ingredients. Replace the cream-style corn with 1.5 cups of fresh corn kernels (aka American corn).

Sweet corn soup chicken recipe

STYLE STORY: The Mexican drug lord’s “narco” shirt

When Sean Penn’s interview with (then fugitive) Mexican drug lord El Chapo Guzmán (or just “El Chapo”) was made public, it was sensational news around the world. Accompanying the news was a picture of El Chapo shaking Sean Penn’s hand, wearing a printed blue shirt. And then, El Chapo’s shirt was suddenly in demand. But who designed that shirt? And where is it from? This feature from El Pais (a Spanish newspaper) has the answers. Don’t just read it to know about the brand and the designer—think about the bigger picture here. It’s a fascinating story that began with religious persecution, then immigration, and is truly symbolic of globalization, international trade and the fascinating times we live in. It left me amazed (and amused!).

El Chapo in blue shirt with Sean Penn

I’ve translated important sections of the feature from Spanish (without help from Google Translate). Read on for an enlightening story about the famous “narco” shirt:

Last Saturday, while thousands of people were looking at a photo of actor Sean Penn and El Chapo Guzmán and wondering where it was shot, what they discussed or who took the photo, Sam Esteghball was focused on something else: the shirt that El Chapo was wearing was his. That is to say, the design. Esteghball is the owner of the shop Barabas in Los Angeles, and he had been inundated with emails from customers who had recognised the print and it seemed like they wanted to buy it.

Since then, orders have flooded this family business that creates its own designs and manufactures in China. “We have thousands of requests that we cannot fulfill [yet], but we are manufacturing more,” says Sam Esteghball in the store. They placed an order for a few hundreds of the shirts, like they do with all their designs, to sell them through exhibitions and to see how they do in the market. They did not imagine instant success.

Right now they are sold out, but Sam assures that he’s been requested [the shirts] for exhibition sales. If one makes an online request, rest assured, the shirts will be here in two weeks. On the internet, there are two shirts El Chapo was wearing- one in the photo, the second in the video.

At the entrance of the store the shirt from the photo with Sean Penn is clearly displayed, light blue with darker vertical bands and twig motifs, 100% cotton. It costs $128 in stores, a price that is cheap for this fashion line, according to Esteghball, who assures that it hasn’t risen this week. Sam defines the line’s style as “fantasy”, but the Mexicans know it as “norteño” [Mexican street gang] or “narco” [drugs]. Not exactly. The correct word in Los Angeles for that style is flamboyant. Flashy, ostentatious, garish, that calls for attention. That description is flawless.

Barabas is a small store in the well-known “fashion district” in Los Angeles, a euphemism that conceals a sea of warehouses and alleys where clothing business by most of the world and for the world is negotiated. In September 2014, the FBI confirmed that it was the epicenter of drug money laundering.

Photos of famous people posing in their clothes adorn the walls of the Barabas store in the city centre (there are two locations). You can assume right away that they have special success in the world of Mexican street gangs: Goyo Gastelum, Andrés Márquez El Macizo, La Banda Jerez, Jorge Gamboa, Javier Rosas y El Komander pose with their designs leaving from the store.

“That culture came to us, not the other way round,” assures Esteghball. He started the business with his brother nine years ago and it was around two years ago, he says, that he realized that the “narco culture” world had adopted his shirts, bright pants and safari jackets like those of his brand. They began to be copied by some of the others, he says. One enters Barabas and can leave dressed like El Komander in 10 minutes. They sell clothes to 5000 retailers around the world, which is why Sam says he had no idea where El Chapo bought his shirt, one of the richest men in the world, who could choose Armani, visible from Barabas.

The five members of the Esteghball family migrated to California 16 years ago from Shiraz, Iran. They are Jewish and the situation had become very difficult for minorities during the regime of the ayatollahs. Around a million Iranians live in Los Angeles- it’s the largest exile community of Iran in the world, to the point that there is an area called Teheángeles. The sons got into the fashion business because it was what their father did in Shiraz. El Chapo wears narco shirts designed by Iranian immigrants and made in China. That’s what the Republican candidates don’t notice.

 

Picture courtesy: Rolling Stone

Sunday Street Stories: Berlin’s “ruined” church

When I visited Berlin a year and a half ago, I headed to Kurfurstendamm to shop. As the stores’ window displays tempted me, my eyes fell on a strange church across the street. It looked around a century old and the spire seemed ripped off.

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Despite the construction work going on, there were no signs of fixing the spire. I wondered, why would the technically-perfect Germans allow a church to stay in its damaged state?

It took me some time to find the answer. This church (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church), built in the 1890s was partly destroyed by an air bombing in 1943. In the 1950s, restoration plans were developed but the public and  powers that be decided to keep the ruined tower as a reminder of the futility of war. Instead, a new building was constructed near the original. The result: this hexagonal building by architect Egon Eiermann.

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Pictures taken on: June 1, 2014
Location: Berlin, Germany
Device: Google Nexus 5

My favourite shopping streets in Europe

Also read: Awesome shopping streets in Asia.

Strøget, Copenhagen (Denmark)

A gorgeous street in Copenhagen, but alas, the shops close by 7 pm and the prices are outrageous for tourists on non-European salaries. Strøget is one of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe, and is lined with popular high street stores like Topshop, Zara, H&M and some local brands. There’s also a giant Lego store (yay!). The summer of 2014, Strøget was buzzing with tourists and locals enjoying the atmosphere, sipping coffee at outdoor cafes, and just strolling about. I especially enjoyed the walk on cobblestoned streets and checking out the heritage buildings, still in excellent condition.

Shopping Stroget in Copenhagen

Stroget shopping Copenhagen

Taksim Square, Istanbul (Turkey)

Back in 2010 when I visited Turkey, the famous Taksim Square was THE PLACE to be on a Saturday night. Crowded even in the day, the place came alive on weekend evenings, with thousands of people partying, shopping and grabbing a bite well past midnight. The streets off the square became a no-car zone, dozens of food and souvenir vendors set up shop and the “party” began. The atmosphere was pulsating with high energy, and I felt like I’d just had two Red Bulls. After a quick pizza, I made my way through the packed streets to go shopping, spending at least an hour at the multi-storeyed Mango store. The best part—shops were open till midnight!

PS- Due to the changing political situation in Turkey, I’m not sure if the late-night shopping continues.

Kurfürstendamm, Berlin (Germany)

Who would’ve thought that the staid German capital would have such wonderful shopping! Kurfürstendamm (quite a mouthful no?) is the center of most tourist activities in Berlin and a great place to shop. The street has all the high street brands you could name- Zara, Diesel, Uniqlo, H&M, Pull & Bear… you get the idea. I shopped till I dropped at Pull & Bear, and got a great leopard print backpack from Zara for just €10. I also bought kitchen appliances at the German department store KaDeWe, which was stocked with unbelievable appliances in the German aesthetic: clean design and high-tech precision. Also the souvenir shops are worth checking out for cool tees, shot glasses and Berlin messenger bags that look great and are easy on the pocket.

Berlin Kufustendamm shopping

La Rambla, Barcelona (Spain)

Being in Spain, you expect to see local fashion brands at every corner. And well, they are! In and around the 1.2 kilometre-long La Rambla, you have the choice of the world’s best-known fashion and beauty brands, and you will never want to stop. I shopped at Zara, Mango, H&M, Bershka, The Body Shop, Shana… This was in 2011, and the Euro was not as frightfully expensive as it is today. At the Plaza Catalunya end of the street (north end), there’s the Spanish department store El Corte Inglés, where I bought Bobbi Brown makeup and tons of accessories. El Corte Inglés is a quintessential part of the Spanish life and each store is different from the others. It’s a must-visit anywhere in the country.

Barcelona shopping La Rambla

Barcelona shopping La Rambla artists