This article was first published in The Straits Times of Singapore.
ABOUT a year ago, I was lost in thought, contemplating the beauty of the sparkling Aegean Sea, from a balcony high above the cliffs. As I stared at the horizon, I felt as if I was sitting at the very edge of the world, at the foot of a heavenly gateway, far from the realities of my usually purposeful life.
Indeed, I was on idyllic Santorini, the celebrated southernmost island of the Cyclades, just a few hours from the mainland of Greece. Directly ahead of me was the spectacular caldera — a cauldron-like lagoon formed by the collapse of land following a massive volcanic eruption some 3,600 years ago.
Lawrence Durrell, the 20th-century expatriate British novelist, who spent his childhood on the island of Corfu, once wrote: “It is hardly a matter of surprise that few, if any, good descriptions of Santorini have been written: the reality is so astonishing that prose and poetry, however winged, will forever be forced to limp behind.”
Thus, it is no surprise that the exquisiteness of the island has a way of plunging those who visit into a trance-like state. And there are many who still believe today, that Santorini was once Atlantis, one of the most mythical lands ever described, and mankind’s oldest lost paradise.
A childhood dream
All throughout my childhood, I had heard about the beauty and unique charms of Santorini from my mother. She had been fortunate to vacation on the island in the late 1960s, before it became internationally famous as a holiday destination. Despite the modernity that has taken over this island almost 40 years since mum’s first visit, I was not disappointed in the least. In fact, much to the contrary, I too, became completely and utterly enamoured. My husband and I stayed in Santorini for a few days to celebrate a special wedding anniversary.
During that time, we explored as much of the island as we could. We learnt that Santorini is home to one of the most significant excavation sites in the Mediterranean — Akrotiri. The ruins of this ancient town are well preserved because, like Pompeii, it was buried in a volcanic eruption. Additionally, we also discovered that there are close to 250 churches on the island, and that it only takes an hour and a half by car to traverse it lengthwise. The locals venerate the Virgin Mary, considered to be their guardian goddess, and are mostly of the Greek Orthodox and Catholic faiths.
Indulging in Greek delights
As we took in the view of sea and sky on a quiet evening, awaiting one of the sunsets for which this island is so renowned, we made our way to a friendly taverna, where the owner served us a delectable dinner. He brought out a whole sea bass, baked in thyme salt crust, and drizzled with sage-infused olive oil, accompanied by a plate of perfect cherry tomatoes with Feta cheese, and a bowl of freshly roasted vegetables. For dessert, we devoured a ripe peach, sliced and garnished with fresh mint, served with a dollop of Greek yogurt, generously coated with local honey. And let me not forget the wines! Santorini’s volcanic soils produce notable vintages, whites especially, that are dry, citrusy and simply delightful.
The vineyard owners are welcoming and knowledgeable. Later in our stay, we spent a day bumping along dusty roads in our rented Jeep, strolling through rows of grapes and tasting the offerings. At another time during our holiday, we devoted the day to just walking up and down the cobblestone streets of the quaint town of Fira — relaxing, picking up charming little souvenirs, visiting churches, always eating magnificent food and taking in the beauty all around us.
Sailing the Aegean Sea
The highlight of the trip, however, was renting a magnificent 12m catamaran boat and speeding up and down the pristine coast with the sea wind on our faces, visiting neighbouring islands, and enjoying the hypnotic swell of the magnificent Aegean Sea. Lunch on the boat was unforgettable — we savoured wonderful local wines and feasted on an exquisite selection of native seafood, barbecued on board by our skipper, while we swam in the invigorating waters of the little cove where we had dropped anchor.
Naturally, it was very hard to leave this magical island, where sea and sky, heaven and earth, seem to meet in perfect accord.There are only a few places in the world where time stands still — surely this must be one of those rare havens. Santorini has unquestionably cast a spell on me, for there are times when I simply have to close my eyes and reminisce to feel that warm Aegean Sea breeze on my face, beckoning me to return.
First published in Harper’s Bazaar Junior Magazine Singapore.
Amy Chua’s latest book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which extols the virtues of Chinese versus western parenting methods, has unleashed a storm of heated controversy and has generated shock waves and intense debate on what is the best parenting style. In her contentious book, Ms Chua implies, in more ways than one, that Chinese parents are better at raising children than are western ones because of the more strict and uncompromising Chinese values, which she says are different from the indulgent and permissive western methods. Chinese parents, she believes, instill respect for authority, stress academic performance above all else, never accept a mediocre grade and insist on drilling and practicing until the child achieves the desired result. Needless to say, this topic has given rise to strong reactions amongst parents and education specialists around the globe.
Knowing that we are all products of our own cultural upbringing, education and childhood experiences, is it right to say that there is in fact a superior approach to rearing successful children? The answer to this loaded question depends on the criteria one uses to define success. High academic achievement doesn’t automatically equate to a brilliant career, and being wealthy and successful doesn’t guarantee happiness and stability. So, the issue is a complex one, requiring an open mind and an inquisitive spirit.
The subject of what makes up the different kinds of parenting styles has been researched in depth by experts, and despite our squeamishness about stereotypes, there is an abundance of studies showing marked and quantifiable differences between Asians and westerners when it comes to parenting priorities. In one study of 50 American mothers and 48 Asian immigrant mothers in the US, almost 70 per cent of the western mothers said either that “stressing academic success is not good for children” or that “parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun.” By contrast, a very small number of the Asian mothers felt the same. Indeed, the vast majority said that “academic achievement reflects successful parenting” and that if children did not excel at school, the parents “were not doing their job.”
It is no surprise, then, that according to research, Asian parents, as compared to western parents, spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. Western children, on the other hand, are more likely to join sports teams or drama classes, and their parents will be more concerned about their children’s self-esteem rather than academic performance. But for Asian parents, often guided by beliefs of self perfection and constant improvement, one of the worst things you can do for your children’s self-esteem is to let them give up, believing that there’s nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn’t.
Of course, these cultural stereotypes, while sometimes true, must not be taken too literally. There are many conflicting theories within both Asian and western cultures on the best ways to rear children. According to one of the best-known theories of parenting, developed by Diana Baumrind, parenting styles generally fall into three main categories: authoritarian, indulgent or authoritative. Traditional Asian childrearing practices are often described as authoritarian, characterized by strictness, with little open dialogue between parent and child. Indulgent parenting, on the other hand, a permissive or lenient style, is characterised by nurturing parents who are very involved with their children yet have few behavioural expectations and impose few controls. An authoritative parenting style, the third category and ostensibly ideal, encourages children to be independent, thus helping them develop autonomy, but still imposes behavioural limits and controls.
Having been brought up by an Asian mother and a western father myself, I am fortunate to recognise many of these authoritative parenting traits in the manner my parents chose to bring me up. And in some ways, combining Asian and western parenting styles seems to come very close to the recommended authoritative method. An expression comes to mind— “A hand of steel in a velvet glove.”
In the end, and despite our cultural differences, most parents want what is best for their children. And while it is inappropriate to say that either an Asian or a western parenting style is better, the greatest gift we can give our children is to remain open minded about improving our own parenting method. As I like to remember, there is no handbook on being a perfect parent. We can only pledge to do our very best and strive to keep learning as we go.
This article was first published in Urban Nomads website.
As I came down the dizzying heights of Jebel Khazali, the most dramatic, and serious – in terms of climbing difficulty – of the Wadi Rum mountains, I drank in this vast, silent expanse of ancient riverbeds and sandy deserts.
Split by a network of canyons, spanned by naturally formed stone bridges and watered by hidden springs, the spectacular landscape unfolding before my eyes held me captivated. This timeless place, virtually untouched by humanity and its destructive forces, where the weather and winds have carved out imposing, towering skyscrapers, so elegantly described by T.E. Lawrence, as “vast, echoing and God-like,” possesses one of the most stunning geographies on the planet.
During this majestic journey, I trekked in a maze of monumental moonscapes, which rose up from the desert floor to heights of 1,750m. I relished the serenity of the boundless empty spaces, and explored the canyons, rock arches and many other remarkable treasures this vast wasteland had to offer.
Undoubtedly the desert of Jordan has cast a spell on me. Its beauty forever imprinted on my soul, and as a result I will always carry this fervent yearning to return…
This article was first published in Urban Nomads website.
When Mount Pinatubo erupted in June 1991, it spewed out more than five cubic kilometres of magma and sent an ash cloud 35 kilometres into the air. It was the second largest eruption of the 20th century, exceeded only by the 1912 eruption of Mount Novarupta in Alaska. Today, if you drive out two hours from Manila to the historic town of Capas in the Tarlac Province of the Philippines, you can follow a 25-kilometre trail to the stunning crater of this 1,486-metre-high volcano.
Four-wheel-drive vehicles take you across approximately 16 kilometres of the terrain, through a deserted valley flanked by huge lahar mountains, formed by the tremendous volume of mud and ash deposited after the eruption.
After a somewhat jerky and dusty hour-long ride, I am dropped off at the beginning of the path where I begin my hike. Two hours later, as I arrive at the Crater Lake, the ridges of the volcano level down, and the panorama opens up before me. Steep mountain walls on all sides encapsulate the vivid blue-green lake, which is 2.5 kilometres in diameter, and about 800 metres deep – incidentally making it the deepest lake in the country.
Standing on the very edge of the crater, the landscape, which unfolds below, appears to belong to a new world – stunning, unexpected, and unspoilt. The lake, hidden away in the middle of the volcano like a glittering gem, instantly conjures for me the pristine scenery of the biblical Garden of Eden, so poetically depicted in Milton’s Paradise Lost.
It’s windy suddenly, almost chilly, and as if hearing me shiver, the noon sun comes out beyond the clouds, bathing the entire crater in a vibrant, warm glow. The water too, deepens in hue, altering in colour, to become even more luminous. Faced with so much raw beauty, all the distractions and noises fade away, and I lose all sense of time and space in this magnificent, immaculate setting…