Monthly Archives: September 2013

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Sometimes while quilting I have a surge of emotions – sometimes happy, sometimes pondering over life’s issues. Recenlty while quilting for my first grand -daughter, I wanted every stitch, every pattern to be filled with love. Just to convey Grandma’s love. At other times, while travelling around the world, I learn new stories, meet people and learn some local phrases. How can I put ‘these’ into a new quilt ? It will be a patchwork quilt, isnt’ it ? 

Then I stumbled upon these meaningful  quotes. Sharing them with you all.

Some Fun Quilting Quotes

Just 4 You

Our lives are like quilts – bits and pieces, joy and sorrow,
stitched with love.
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Is a nine patch part of a twelve step program?
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If I stitch fast enough, does it count as aerobic exercise?
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Quilters come with strings attached.
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Quilters never cut corners.
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I‟ve spent most of my life making quilts. The rest I‟ve just wasted.
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When life gives you scraps make a quilt!
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Sewing fills my days, not to mention the living room,
bedroom and closets.
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Creative clutter is better than idle neatness.
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I‟m creative. You can‟t expect me to be neat too.

Taken from : http://siterepository.s3.amazonaws.com/00544201010140143564888.pdf

 

Fun and meaningful Quilting Quotes

Singapore’s 5C’s: What it means at the Wet Market

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Living in Singapore for over ten years and doing my weekly grocery shopping at the ever popular Wet markets was a great way to understand the local life. I gradually became accustomed to the sights, smells, often covering my nose with my saree pallu and gawking at local accents. For a tourist, sight seeing cannot be complete without a visit to the heartlands of Singapore where the locals live in HDB’s and shop or eat the Wet markets.

Why are they called Wet markets, I wondered on my first visit? Aha..a part of the market is dedicated to fresh produce and the other part to meat, fish and poultry. Singapore being a hot and humid, typical tropical country – vendors need to use ice liberally, that melts and drips onto the floor of the market, hence making it wet and retaining freshness. The dry area has numerous stalls of leafy greens, exotic local fruit like Rambutaan, Chikoo, Durian and other stalls selling vegetables.

The Wet markets are covered markets, well constructed by the Municipal body. They operate from early morning 6:00 am till noon.

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Lai lai-lai’ shouted the cart pusher, move away he instructed with hand admonishes, as I carefully stepped across the wet, slippery floors at Bedok market. ‘Eeeks, what a strong smell’ I muttered, covering my nose and holding my breath.  The smell of meat and fish are enough to chase away even a connoisseur ! Roasted pigs were displayed hung upside down, a favourite food of  the local Chinese! Being a vegetarian, this part of the market was CERTAINLY not my cup of tea! That made me find the ‘other’ entry point for the market – straight onto the stalls selling fruit and vegetables.

Luckily, I could see bananas hanging in big bunches at other end. That raised my spirits to continue shopping and exploring for the exotic tropical fruit, fresh of the season. Red juicy watermelons, prickly skinned jackfruit that yielded fleshy, strong smelling pods with a large seed inside, small red lychee that oozed out sweet juicy flesh, ripe brown chikoo fruit…..yummm. This was a feast!

Bunches of ripe yellow bananasImage

Now, Singapore has a rich and robust economy, despite its small size and the majority are Chinese. The other minorities are Malay, Indians and Eurasians. Thus these markets cater to all cuisines and cultures.

Have you heard of the 5 Cs of Singapore? The well to do and hard working Chinese community yearn to have all the 5 C’s – these are: Cash, Car, Condominium, Credit Card and Club membership.

Today, as I shop, let me try to replace them, exploring what C’s means at the market.

First C: Cash is King

Chinese motto for life: work hard, be rich, buy expensive!

Singpore currency

Wet markets open as early as 4 am every day. The big holiday is only during Chinese New Year. As I sampled fresh leafy greens, Chye Sim and baby Kai Lan the hurried stall owner curtly shouted ‘Have money, can buy lah’ telling me not to waste his time if I did not intend buying. Though prices are cheaper than supermarkets, no bargaining – is the policy. ‘No cheap- cheap lah!’ he shouts to another customer sending a strong message of no bargains! ‘I go Austraalia for holiday. I need maaney (money) to pay rent’ with his strong Singaporean accent.

‘Wow! such ambitious dreams for a vegetable vendor!’ I thought to myself.

Second C: Cultures and Communities

The national population is mainly Chinese and I can see many stall owners that are Chinese too. The minority of Malays and Tamil Indians make up the other bits of this jig-saw puzzle. Therefore even the stalls catering to their needs are fewer. ‘Is there an Indian stall at the Bedok market?’ I inquire. Indians would prefer vegetables like bitter gourd, drumstick, brinjals, Aarvi, raw banana and coconuts. ‘Not in this market lah!’ replied one Chinese vendor. ‘Go Serangoon, go Little India’ she continued in typical Singlish.

This February, with Chinese New Year round the corner, the market was extra vibrant and colourful. Prices of Mandarin oranges and Pomegranate are exchanged during the New Year, thus prices were higher than usual. Even my flower seller raised the price for Chrysanthemum, Marigolds, Carnations and Roses. ‘Red and gold colours are special during the New Year’ she said. To understand the local food and culture it’s time to treat myself to curios, sweet boxes and souvenirs that filled the streets.

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The dry side of the market was packed on either side with fresh vegetables and flowers.  I chanced upon a coconut shredding machine at the Malay stall. How exciting! I chose a big, brown, husky coconut from the container hidden beneath the stall. Coconuts are a popular ingredient in both Malay and Tamil cuisines. This elderly Malay man was dressed in a loose Sarong and black cap. He gently patted the coconut with his knuckles ..‘Tuk, tuk, tuk-tuk.’  That’s the way to check the good flow of water inside. With a smile of satisfaction, he broke the coconut in two and put the tender white pieces into the grinder. ‘Grrr…rrr   …he turned on his antique grinding machine. Out spilled white, frothy coconut shavings. ‘Simply sweet and delicious’ I muttered digging into the neat plastic bag full of powdery white shavings. Let me check some Malay gravy recipes that use this soft coconut, I thought.

The coconut grinding machine

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Fresh coconut shavings  – so milky white and soft

Soft ,milky white freshly grated coconut

Soft ,milky white freshly grated coconut

Third C: Chinese Food  

Chinese believe there must be balance and harmony not only in life, but even in food. Chicken rice and pork is Singapore’s most popular food, but Chinese balance meat/pork by munching on fried leafy greens. I pick up some Chye Sim, Cailan, Chinese Broccoli (not the same as Western green flower heads!), Cabbage, Celery and Chinese bean sprouts. Well, a gourmet cooking time for me ahead I think! Can I find any more C’s while sipping my dark, black Coffee that I bought at the adjacent food court? Coffee is popular drink and is locally called Kopi, served black, but with milk it is called Kopi-O. Yes, spotted one more C : Carrot cake.

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What a surprise it was that Carrot cake ! Nothing like the rich, moist traditional one filled with tiny orange strands. This Chinese version turned out as  a pan-fried, soft layered dumpling. And it was made of radish and plain rice flour.  ‘Radish has a homophonic sound for good fortune’ quipped the short Chinese lady at the counter, giving a big grin, because I was her customer. Now I understand why the Chinese eat Carrot cake (Chai Tao Kway – a TeoChew delicacy of steamed Turnip/Radish) during Chinese New Year. It’s all about good fortune and cash rich.

Fourth C: Competition

Which is better – Supermarket or local Wet market? I once asked an aged local lady. Super market is expensive and you don’t get to interact with the vendors. But as Singapore society is getting richer and women are working longer hours, the traditional good times at fresh markets is becoming rare. They prefer the air-conditioned, clean and efficient service of supermarkets. They even do home delivery. ‘Competition is tough’ cried the grumpy, pot-bellied stall vendor. ‘Government has to help us’ he continued.

Fifth C: Common phrases in Singlish

It’s hilarious to hear the locals speak English, jokingly termed as Singlish (Singaporean English). Well, Cantonese and Mandarin vocabulary and intonations find their way into English.

  • ‘Can-can ’ said one vendor who assured me he would put a good price for all the vegetables i bought ( which means He can do it )
  • ‘Why pay more lah?’ is another common phrase.
  • ‘Don’t be so kiasu’ which means don’t hoard, be reasonable.
  • And when you are surprised you just say Alamak! And
  • The carrot cake vendor asked me Ta Pao (carry away) or eat here?
  • Time to go home after that shopping, so no play –play, which means get serious.

As they say in Singlish – So how? What we do now? Hope you have got a fair idea of the local culture and the market sights.

Can YOU think of transforming  the 5 Cs to your home culture ? Try lah!

Fried Tofu wrapped in Pandan leaf packets

Fried Tofu wrapped in Pandan leaf packets

Freshly cut Tofu squares

Freshly cut Tofu squares

An Introduction to my quilting

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My formal introduction to quilting began in Mauritius, many years ago,under the guidance of an American lady.

However, my first sewing teacher is my dear Mother.

As a young girl I would pedal the sewing machine or thread needles, as she stitched our dresses. Then I began making handkerchiefs and hemmed her saree borders. My mother’s favourite past-time is to make traditional ‘Godhadi’ or SareeQuilts.  The softness of her worn out cotton sarees and bright colours remain unmatched. One feels the love and warmth of those hands, who spent loving hours labouring over the stitches. The Godhadi or Bonta , as it is called in India, is not only a rag saver, but a way of bringing the women folk together, especially in the  rural Indian community. Simple piecing, simple conversations, simple craft !

Quilting in rural India has been very popular and resourceful. I am going to do more research on this later.

To date, I have quilted /hand stitched more than 10 -15 big and small quilts. Most of them (lovingly) have been gifted away either to my daughter, niece, sister or friends.  I recently quilted one for my first grand-daughter, as a new-born baby (see below). Done in much haste, I chanted hymns and songs while quilting, hoping to bind good vibes into the baby quilt. A gift of love, welcoming home and craft work for my little ‘Tanvi’.

I hope you will enjoy seeing my quilts.  May their colours fill your life too with beautiful moments. Warm snuggle 🙂

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Mauritius – In search of an idol of Lord Ganesh

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Mauritius –           In search of an idol of Lord Ganesh

The earthy Ganesh idol, sitting on my bedroom dresser today has a special meaning in my life. Simply adorned with a hint of turmeric yellow on its body and a dot of red on the forehead, it serves as a harbinger of good vibes and wisdom. For me, it weaves a tale of two different Indian families, one migrant, other immigrant,  who met at a street market in Mauritius, but, strangely united in one common thread, of Hindu culture.

And it all happened in the street market at Curepipe, Mauritius.

Mud and clay idol of Lord Ganesh

Mud and clay idol of Lord Ganesh

As Mauritius was the first country I moved to after leaving India, I was soon homesick. I yearned for Indian food and festivities, like Ganesh Puja. In Hindu traditions, Lord Ganesh is regarded as symbol of wisdom and a remover of obstacles. I too wanted a Ganesh idol in my prayer altar – to remove any obstacles while settling into a new country. Expat friends suggested visiting the local market where I could get a glimpse of Mauritian life and culture whilst searching for Indian religious items.  Maybe I get treated to an impromptu Sega dance with its rhythmic lively Creole music or listen to popular Indian Bollywood music that entertained the migrant Bihari community. A culture clash?

Sega dancer : with colourful attire and hip swaying movements

Sega dancer : with colourful attire and hip swaying movements

So come Friday, I walked to nearby Curepipe bus stand. The main street gradually began to swell as stall owners arrived with loads of tropical fruit and vegetables, pulses and spices, car loads of cloth materials, fresh flowers from farms and street food. It was a busy, energetic atmosphere. Dressed in vibrant colours, large floral prints the local Creole community boasted their robust and big bodies. With thick curly hair and dark skin, the Creoles suddenly reminded me of their African origins. In contrast, the Asian /Chinese migrants had petite body and straight, black hair. One can easily spot the odd Indian too. The women wear either long, flowing skirts or brightly coloured synthetic sarees. Truly, the country’s populace was well represented at the market, a totally new experience for me. Mauritius could be advertised as – One country, many cultures.

Street stalls were briskly set up. Frail, tall bamboo poles stood upright. They held up bright, blue polystyrene sheets that happily flapped in the gusty winds of the periodic cyclones that lash the tropical island serenity.

My eyes soaked in the mélange of colours. Creole stall vendors stacked fresh vegetables like cabbage, broad beans, Pomme d’amour or Tomato, chilli peppers and even sickly discolored onions! ‘Blame them on the heavy rains!’ shouted the angry shopkeeper. Local spices like ginger, bay leaves, fresh mint and lemons were suddenly are in great demand in rainy /stormy weather. ‘Make hot ginger –lemon tea’ cajoled the Chinese lady vendor ‘it will keep out the cold and dampness in your chest’ she added.

 Creole cooking is simple.  …..perfect blend of French and local Mauritian tastes. The popular Gateau pimento and Dholl Puri stalls made brisk sales every market day. Snacking on tangy, spicy Lima beans in gravy sauce, served with large round Puri, fried breads made vegetable shopping such a pleasure!  As the sizzling chilly hit my mouth, water trickled down my nose and passers-by sneered at me jokingly. They knew this was my maiden venture. I soon found out that Gateau pimento or chili cakes are available at street stalls in small paper bags. These are popular snacks of the locals. Though served hot from a big frying pan, they can also be taken away and be eaten cold. Interestingly, the food item has a French name, but Indian origins!

Here is a link ( from Internet) for a Mauritian recipe :

http://gourmetguys.co.za/mauritian-roti-chaud-butter-bean-curry-roti

http://ile-maurice.tripod.com/

No sight of any Ganesh idol and Indian stalls as yet ? I thought aloud. I walked past the section selling cloth materials. Rolled up bundles of pretty lace materials, colourful prints and bright chequered cloth lay stacked on the pavement. Once again a mélange of cultures – French dress their windows with soft lace curtains, Chinese prefer colourful animal prints for their two-piece clothing sets and Indian women don colourful sarees and skirts. Well, I too can dress my windows with my spot market purchase of 5 meters of lace curtain.

Ah! Did I hear some Bollywood music at the far end? My heart raced, my steps brisker as I paced in that direction. Dark skinned, fat women sat crouched on the street pavement. Dressed like Indian women(in sarees) they were huddled together with young children playing nearby. I stood there for a second – at last I spotted a mini India!

Plastic jars lined the stall shelves, they were filled with delicious Indo- Mauritian snacks – just like in India. Roasted fried peanuts, gram flour savouries, rice crispies or Murukkus.

Could the stall owners converse in Hindi, I wondered? ‘Bhaiyya, brother, where I can find a Ganesh prayer idol? ‘I begged. Soon Sookdeeo and his family, the stall owners greeted me with much appreciation and admiration, being a fellow Indian. The warmth and hospitality were touching, as they handed me some savouries and inquired about India, speaking in Bihari Hindi, a dialect I was unaccustomed to. It was an instant bond.

Over several Friday visits to Curepipe market, they related their harsh stories of migration. As their ancestors, brought as labourers by the British and French rulers, arrived to Mauritius on crowded boats, over 100 years ago, the families stayed on in Mauritius, making it a home away from home towns in India. Working long, sunny hours on sugar cane fields darkened their skins even more. Then, Indian food was scarce and adapting life to the local culture, a demand. Gradually, they survived, keeping the cultural lamp glowing in their new homeland.

I ate another plate of dholl puri – These Mauritian flatbreads have a filling of cooked yellow split peas. They’re served warm wrapped around curries, achards (pickled vegetables). Somehow dholl puri reminded me of a sweeter version my mother used to make ( Puran poli, also made with a filling of cooked yellow lentils ground finely and mashed with mounds of jaggery and coconut trimming).  Sookdeeo’s ancestors helped in the making of the first Hindu temple in Mauritius! They even made prayer idols using rich volcanic clay soil from the island, instead of river soil as done in India!

Finally, I had found my local artisan and the much longed for idol of Ganesh! In the following weeks I brought home a specially moulded Ganesh idol.My market visits had interwoven two Hindu migrant families. As if, Lord Ganesh gave us a ray of hope and wisdom – to learn and bloom in the new cultural environment while adapting to the ethnic life of this beautiful island of Mauritius.

I would sum up the true Mauritian way of life –

‘If you start your day with Continental breakfast, followed by Chinese lunch and finish with Indian dinner, accompanied with French wine’ it would mean a culturally balanced Mauritian way of life.

Hyderabad Two Cups of Chai at Monda Market

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Hyderabad

Two Cups of Chai at Monda Market

I met Anwar Habib at the tea shop inside Monda market in Hyderabad. Hesitantly, I stood at a distance observing him. I had risen early and by 7 am I was at the market, ready to capture the market scenes and maybe engage the vendors in conversations. Established more than 100 years ago, Monda market is the biggest fresh produce market in twin cities of Secunderabad and Hyderabad. The rail and bus stations are in proximity, providing transport.

Anwar was busy boiling large amounts of milky tea or chai using an aluminium kettle. With deft manipulation of his hands, the kettle rose off the gas stove, into the swing of his arms to pour frothy cups of tea or chai into plastic cups. The chai would provide instant energy to the waiting vendors.

Aapko chai hona?’ Do you want tea? Habib asked me in typical Hyderabadi Hindi admonishing an awkward smile at me. ‘Jaroor, yes’ I replied, though unsure of the quality and hygiene here. ‘Doo cup ka kitna ? I said handing him Rs.20. ‘One for me and the other for the cauliflower vendor’. That conversation was enough to break the ice and Anwar began telling me his story. In return, I told him my intentions of buying vegetables and capturing photos. Its trading time. Two cups chai for photos.

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The wooden bench created a perfect spot. Seventeen years ago, as a young boy, every morning, Anwar accompanied his father to this market. He would sit alongside friendly vendors and watch the human interactions. His father, a coolie, carried jute sacks on his back from arriving trucks to sorting bays. The family survived on meagre wages, and he hardly attended school, remarked Anwar. Few years later, he began running as an errand boy earning his own pocket-money. Today, he beams with pride and enthusiasm, as a stall owner! ‘It’s a dream come true – to serve the market community and be near his old uncle vendors.’ A better life than a coolie!

Taking the other cup of tea I approached the woman vendor who sat nearby chopping off leaves from fresh white cauliflowers. Clad in purple sari and colourful bangles on her wrists, this Telugu Hindu vendor sported the traditional bright red bottu mark on her forehead.

Amma selling caulifower at Monda market

Amma selling caulifower at Monda market

Both Hindus and Muslims make up the population of Hyderabad. The city was once ruled by Nizams and later the British set up their cantonment here.

Shyly, Amma sipped the tea I offered and smiled at my camera. ‘This vegetable no Hyderabad Amma, special Dili’ she spoke practising her limited English. That explained the unusal price at Rs. 80 /per kilo! Local favourites I know are lady fingers, brinjals, flat beans and gourds raw bananas and chillies.

Next stop was at the variety of cucumbers, in all colours and sizes. Long green ones are called kira, shorter are dondakaya, the ever popular, round -yellow are dosakaya, and the snake length ones are called potlakaya. Andhra food is hot and spicy, laced with plenty of poppu, a tempering of mustard seeds, curry leaf, asatoefida and turmeric. Most of the kira are chopped finely and curried into tangy, spicy chutneys that accompany mounds of hot rice. Ym..mm. I muttered at the thought of chutney!

Yellow Cucumbers and snake gourd

The main market building has low rise covered platforms. It has weathered many years of trade amidst surging crowds. The market was created to cater to the British and Indian army staff over 50 years ago. Today, it lacks basic amenities and insufficient parking for transport. The narrow lanes between the main building and landing bays now teem with haphazard growth of the vendors. Colourful plastic flower decorations that hang from some pillars, cleverly camouflage loose hanging electricity wires. But life goes on….from 5 am to 2 pm. People have little time to waste as they get busy buying, sorting, cleaning and rearranging their tiny spot with the fresh vegetables. They then await their ‘first boni’ or ‘lucky’ customer.

Trudging delicately between shoddy stalls, upside down cartons of vegetables, wet slippery floors and human traffic, I squeezed my way to the other end. A large gold –gilded statue, probably a political leader, stood on the pavement, staring down at the people, as if a constant reminder of empty promises for cleaner, better facilities.

Mounds of green vegetables, curry leaves, raw green bananas and seasonal raw mangoes fill the space. Curry leaves or Karvepakulu are great source of vitamins and minerals and bring out an aromatic flavour when crushed. Today I want to cook my favourite Andhra leafy vegetable –Gongura or red sorrel leaves. ‘Amma, take 6 bunches for Rs.20, said the lady speaking local Telugu. ‘You will not get cheap price near your house’. Trading time again – buy bunches of greens in exchange

for few photos. Amma, pointed to her grand children busy playing with stones in the other  corner, they came only on weekends to help. On other days they attend school, striving for a better slice of life. Wash and dry the Gongura leaves and then fry in spoon of oil. Add lot of garlic and red chillies to the Gongura.’ That, she said was her recipe to cure any mild cold and fever. Such simple, no fuss, instant recipe sharing.

Green and red chillies are a vital part of Andhra cooking. The central plateau of Andhra is reputed for pungent red chillies, a visual treat as they dry out on roofs and verandahs during summer.

Sieving chilles with traditional bamboo seive

Sorting and sieving  chilli with woven bamboo sieve

I took a minute to capture these two women in action – one negotiating the price and the other sorting freshly arrived chilli using a woven, traditional bamboo sieve. When tossed in the air lightly, the  chillies are separated from the fragments and dirt. It’s also used effectively to clean rice paddy, grains and nuts. Today  traditional sieves are woven and coloured in contemporary style to adorn kitchens.

Traditional bamboo seive

Traditional bamboo sieve

Returning to the chai wallah or tea man to say goodbye, his friendly nature points me to the flower wallah at the entrance of the market, beyond the fruit vendors and spice shops, that have their own history.

As the festive season of Dussera puja arrives, price of flowers shoot up. A basket of bright orange marigolds that usually sell for Rupees. 400 will now cost the vendor Rs. 600 or Rs. 700. Flowers arrive from neighbouring states of Coorg and Mysore, from the cool hill stations.

Mounds of fresh marigolds sitting in bamboo baskets

‘Beautiful garlands for your hair, Miss, and you can offer them at puja’ shouts Yelliah, the flower wallah. Holding up fragrant, white jasmine malai, neatly plaited strands, he beckons me. These flowers arrive from neighbouring states tied in tender green banana leaves to retain freshness. Once the leafy packets are opened,  fragrance bursts and fills the morning air, purifying it of all the staleness and pollution present on the streets. Surely, the pretty white garlands dotted with red rose buds would make a perfect decor at the puja altar.

Dainty white Jasmine garlands

Dainty white Jasmine garlands

Time, language, caste and creed of people is no barrier for trade and business at this market. Just buying 2 cups of chai, opened up conversations with the vendors, and I became wiser about their life and work, their woes and miseries of long, hard-working hours and their dreams for a better life for their next generation. Photo taking turned them into instant ‘ heroes’ this morning, providing brief respite from their mundane work, bringing smiles on their dry faces.

What can I say about learning from  interactions at this market ? Work hard, be dedicated to your profession, create better opportunities and transform yourself . Just like Anwar, from a back-breaking coolie to Tea stall holder. And his next generation will pour cups of chai …next time at the office desk ?

Service with a smile !

Service with a smile !   Pouring frothy tea