Category Archives: Yogini in the City

What does a modern day yogi(ni) do? Pretty much everything regular people do – go to work, do laundry, cook, complain about traffic and corrupt politicians.

When I’m not at the office or working on my asanas, I’m usually chilling with friends, shopping, checking out good restaurants, writing at cafes and more. I also do all kinds of reviews. This blog is about my lifestyle and experiences in the sunny Southeast Asian city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. – Jayna Valen

Restaurant Review: La Cocina (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

by Jayna Valen

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This Spanish cuisine restaurant has been a Subang Jaya icon for quite awhile now. I remember that more than a decade ago it was in USJ 9, within the Taipan Business Center. I was in college back then, and working part-time in a call center situated right behind the restaurant.

La Cocina’s head chef, Mr. Jega, sometimes stood outside the restaurant, in the junction-alleyway that I walked through to get to work. He was a friendly man with a ready smile, making small talk and always inviting me to come in and try the food. I always promised him that I would, but I didn’t think it would take me more than 10 years to finally step in! Hence, this is a long-delayed review.

La Cocina recently moved to Taipan Triangle in USJ 10. It’s my mum’s favourite restaurant, so we went there for dinner last week. I noticed that it’s gotten a cool new look – clean contemporary without compromising on the Spanish passion.

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Ambience and Service

I like the new makeover. The interior is spacious, unfussy and tastefully decorated, with artistic touches in all the right places. It makes for a very pleasant dining atmosphere that’s both rustic and modern at the same time. Service staff were friendly, polite and attentive. I felt that the décor could use a little more of that hot-blooded, Flamenco vibrancy of Spain. But hey, that’s just me and my usual flamboyant taste.

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Food

My mum had Pescado Fritos, which is essentially fish and chips (RM26). I ordered two dishes: the Queso Manchego (RM27.90), which is pure sheep milk cheese from the La Mancha region in Spain, and the Lamb Lasagne (RM27.90).

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Both main dishes were quite good. I wouldn’t say outstanding, but they were pleasant on the taste buds. The fish was firm and succulent, the fried batter crispy and not too oily. The lasagne could’ve done with a bit more minced lamb, but overall tasted great.

The cheese was excellent! It was soft and crumbly, flavourful without being overpowering. The serving size for the cheese was surprisingly small considering the price, so I made a mental note to check the prices of whole-wheel Manchego to see if the cost was justified.

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They stock an impressive selection of wines too. If you become a member of their wine club, you’ll enjoy discounts on selected wines and special corkage rates.

Summary

My overall experience here was quite delightful. It’s too bad that I forgot to have a look upstairs, but judging from the pictures on the website, it looks pretty impressive. I may consider going back to try one of their paellas sometime if I can get a friend to split the dish with.

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Special mention on the quality and freshness of all raw produce used in the dishes, as this imparted the lively burst of sun-energized ingredients into the final meal. Which, to me, makes all the difference in the end.

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My Ratings:

Food (Lamb Lasagne): 7/10
Food (Fish and Chips): 6/10
General Cleanliness: 10/10
Ambience: 8/10
Service: 10/10
Price: 5/10
Location (Subang Jaya, Kuala Lumpur): 7/10
Will I go back again : 7/10

Update: I received a nice message from Chef Jega himself! How lovely indeed.

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Related Links:

La Cocina – Spanish Restaurant and Bar

Restaurant Review: Bali & Spice (Subang Jaya, Malaysia)

Restaurant Review: Alexis Bistro and Wine Bar (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Devi’s Corner (Bangsar, Malaysia)

*Photo credit: Main image of paella dish is taken from La Cocina’s official webpage.

Restaurant Review: Bali & Spice (Subang Jaya, Malaysia)

by Jayna Valen and Vas P.

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So it was one of those weeknights when Vas and me were doing that back and forth thing about dinner plans.

“So where do you wanna go?”
“I dunno. Where do you wanna go?”
“Anywhere. Where’s good?”

Silence. We crack our heads. Then suddenly she’s like, “I know the perfect place! It’s nearby! Can you do large portions?”

I roll my eyes. But of course. I can literally eat my body’s weight worth of anything when hungry enough.

So we drive over to Da Men Mall in USJ Subang Jaya. It’s brand spanking new, but a pretty lame excuse for a mall in terms of shopping. However, since we were going there for food, whatever. We parked and made our way to this restaurant called Bali & Spice.

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Ambience And Service

It appears that Bali & Spice is under the management of the same group of restaurants as Ole-Ole Bali, which I am familiar with (branches in Sunway Pyramid and Empire Shopping Gallery). Just like their other restaurants, the first thing you notice is the gorgeous Balinese décor. I don’t know why, but I just have to meddle with the bronze gong at the entrance each time I go to one of these places. Yes, the gong is real AND nobody ever stops me when I do that. How cool is that?

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I really have to commend the management for the stunning interior décor of their chain of restaurants. The wall art, furniture, menu design and everything, literally perfect. From the woven mengkuang placemats to the fresh ginger lilies in glass vases, an impressive effort. A 10/10 from me for ambience, vibe, visual and styling. Service was excellent. The serving staff were all attired in traditional Balinese clothing in keeping with the theme.

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Food

THIS. Food like this is what I call value for money, time and effort spent in eating out. I ordered the Jimbaran Grill (RM39) and Vas had the Ikan Salmon Bakar (RM37). Generous portions, reasonable prices. The Jimbaran Grill consists of grilled white fish fillet, large prawns and squid accompanied by two types of sambal (spicy paste). If you’re a seafood buff, this dish is a must-try. It’s such a divine pleasure to the tastebuds.

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The seafood was perfectly seasoned and spiced, cooked impeccably and presented beautifully. I’m great at detecting individual flavors in spice blends, but these dishes gave me a good challenge. I could taste the tang of lemongrass and ginger flower, but everything else was a pleasant mystery. I say the chefs deserve recognition for their outstanding culinary skills. Great job!

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I took a bite of the salmon. It wasn’t as satisfying as mine, but good nevertheless. I think salmon in general isn’t the best fish for Indonesian-Malay cooking styles, considering the oily flesh. Still, no complaints. We had matching Indonesian salads that accompanied the dishes. Not sure what that’s called, but it goes great with the sambal.

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Summary

I would highly recommend any of the restaurants under the same management. The overall quality and service has remained great over the years. Food isn’t overly spicy either, so it’s a perfect place to take your foreign guests.

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My Ratings:

Food (General): 9/10
Food (Jimbaran Grill): 10/10
Food (Ikan Salmon Bakar): 8/10
General Cleanliness: 10/10
Ambience: 9/10
Service: 10/10
Price: 8/10
Location (Subang Jaya, Kuala Lumpur): 7/10
Will I go back again : 10/10

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Related Posts:

Restaurant Review: Alexis Bistro and Wine Bar (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Restaurant Review: Fuel Shack (Bangsar South, Malaysia)

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Devi’s Corner (Bangsar, Malaysia)

Restaurant Review: Alexis Bistro And Wine Bar (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

by Jayna Valen

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Our group of eight decided to have an early Christmas team dinner, so we made a reservation at Alexis @ The Gardens in Midvalley mall. We were a little surprised when the waiter ushered us to a table outside the restaurant, but it didn’t bother us too much so we accepted the spot. However, if you don’t like the idea of dining in the middle of a busy mall, do specify it when making your reservation at the Midvalley outlet.

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Ambience and Service

The restaurant décor is chic-minimalist with a hint of lux, per Alexis’s usual vibe. The mood lighting is perfect for long, relaxed conversations. A little noisy, but perhaps that’s just a seasonal thing as it’s close to the holidays and the mall is crowded. The staff were helpful; they were kind enough to ‘rush’ an order of strong coffee for my boss who was having a bad migraine.

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Food 

They have an impressive wine selection and an interestingly varied tapas menu. I had the Slow Roasted Duck Magret (RM48) – it was well cooked and succulent, but the portion was ridiculously small considering the price. It was gone in literally four bites. This dish is a real disappointment in terms of serving size. I’d never order it again.

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My colleague Esmond had the Sarawak Laksa at RM29. It was a big portion and looked really tempting. He said it tasted good, though not exactly on par with the traditional dish (Esmond is from Sarawak). Choi Wan had Angelhair Aglio Olio (RM45, regular-sized portion), which she remarked was satisfactory. It came with this cool-looking crayfish thing, which was cleanly split in half and seasoned liberally.

Syirah ordered the Slow Cooked Lamb Shank (RM72), which came with pilau rice, pomegranate and smoked capsicum. I tried a little. It was tender and came off the bone easily, but it was too bland for Syirah and me. Considering that we’re Indian and Malay by ethnicity, we’re probably too used to stronger spices when it comes to lamb.

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Other dishes that came our way were Baked Button Mushrooms (RM20), Fried Calamari Rings (RM24) and three orders of steak in varying weights (Striploin Grain-Fed @ RM70 / 220gms, Ribeye Black Angus @ RM85 / 220gms, Tenderloin Grain-Fed @ RM92 / 200gms). My buddies gave the food an average to above-average rating.

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For dessert, we tried their famed Tiramisu (RM17.80). It certainly lives up to its reputation! This dessert was exceptionally good, and the serving size was generous. It had an interesting chiffon-pudding texture, topped with coarsely chopped nuts and drizzled over with a caramel-like sauce. Rich, creamy and flamboyant on the tongue, I imagine this would go great with a good, strong long black or espresso. Completely worth the price and I would say it’s quite the masterpiece.

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Summary

I’d definitely go back, but unless they do something about the duck serving size, it’s off my choice list for good. Pity, it was rather delicious and I love duck. Will definitely consider a takeaway for that divine Tiramisu in future. Do note that it’s notoriously difficult to find parking spots in Midvalley on weekends, so if you’re visiting this outlet, it may help to go a little earlier (plus make reservations in advance).

My Ratings:

Food (General): 7/10
Food (Slow Roasted Duck Magret): 6/10
Food (Slow Cooked Lamb Shank): 4/10
Food (Dessert – Tiramisu): 10/10
Food (Baked Button Mushrooms): 7/10
Drinks: 8/10
General Cleanliness: 10/10
Service: 8/10
Price: 5/10
Location (Midvalley, Kuala Lumpur): 6/10
Will I go back again : 8/10

Related Posts:

Restaurant Review: Fuel Shack (Bangsar South, Malaysia)

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Devi’s Corner (Bangsar, Malaysia)

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Moorthy’s Mathai (USJ, Malaysia)

 

Embracing Swedish Culture: The Art of Fika

by Jayna Valen

How Sweden Got Me Hooked On Fika

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I’m a person who’s constantly evolving. I tend to adopt snippets of culture from around the world easily, embracing ways of life and practices that move and inspire me. This is especially true of places and societies that I’ve had the privilege of immersing myself in and experiencing the native culture first-hand, as a local.

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Sweden changed me in more ways than I can coherently describe. I became so Swedish that I underwent a permanent personality overhaul. I lived in Stockholm for a number of months and experienced life in the Scandinavian capital from the standpoint of a local Swede. From picnics in Skansen to buying acrylics from Clas Ohlson, from butter-frying kantarell to my ready acceptance of unyielding laundry schedules (tvättstuga stories for another day), I dove in with enthusiasm. One day, someone asked me what was the thing about Swedish culture that fascinated me the most. My answer? Fika. Hands down!

Those unfamiliar with Swedish culture may mistakenly consider fika to be just another regular coffee or tea break. Undeniably, that’s what it involves – a spread of coffee, pastries, jams and other snacks that’s shared with family or guests.

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However, the best part of fika is that it’s an excellent way to hone your skills in (and experience) the art of conversation – something which is all but dead in today’s smartphone-obsessed society. It’s almost a subculture in itself, made up of those who truly know how to indulge in and embrace the art of fika.

The authentic fika experience is a concept as sophisticated as the Swedes themselves, and reflective of their discerning palates. Am I exaggerating? Hell no. Just ask any self-respecting Swede. Better still, go to Sweden and observe this interesting phenomenon for yourself. Heck, you can even do it at your local IKEA.

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Funny thing is, I’ve been practicing fika all my life without realizing it. I love long, deep conversations about anything. I’ve always invited friends over for coffee (green tea for me) and snacks – I just didn’t call it fika back then. Sweden just taught me how to fine-tune the art of hosting, attending and enjoying fika. Has it been a life-changing experience? You bet. Then again, everything is for me.

So, What’s Fika?

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Fika is basically a break that involves quality food and the good-company-good-conversation combo. The real art of fika lies in the ability of the host (and often, the guests) to successfully merge food, drink, company and conversation to create unforgettable experiences. Although there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to fika, the best sessions I’ve had are when everyone is feeling warm and relaxed, respected and included. Then, the conversations begin to flow like magic.

There’s no fixed time to have fika in Sweden, though they generally have it twice a day – late in the morning and sometime in the evening. If someone invites you over for fika in Sweden, here’s what you can expect:

1. Good-quality coffee, tea or other beverages (usually more than one type).

2. A spread of food that usually includes pastries, jams, butter, fruit, cakes and more. If your host is non-vegetarian, you may also see food like gravad lax (cured salmon) or cured meats.

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What always surprised me about fika with various people in Stockholm was the variety and quality of the food served. Swedes take their fika seriously, especially if they’re hosting it at their homes. Hosts who invited me over were of the opinion that having instant coffee for fika was borderline sacrilegious (that probably doesn’t apply to everyone in Sweden).

My Fika Experiences In Stockholm

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I’ve had the privilege to have fika with some really amazing people. What’s great is that the experience of fika differs significantly, depending on the people involved.

For instance, fika with my good friend Tony Särkkä, a black metal musician, was always an experience that reflected his fine tastes and artistic inclination. Like me, he was a gourmet tea enthusiast, so fika at his place meant anything from Japanese sencha to white Darjeeling. He had an exquisite dining table made of reflective black glass, which showed off the fika spread wonderfully – vegan butters, almond and oat milk, fruits, nuts, pastries and an assortment of traditional Swedish breads.

We often spoke about books, art and music. Leisurely, sometimes pausing to watch the snowfall through the window. There were times when we wrote poetry together. We delved into topic after topic deeply, unhurriedly. Fika was our way of spurring the creativity of our minds and exploring novel ideas or concepts. Tony has since passed on, but I will always remember him fondly as the first person who introduced me to fika, and forever cherish the conversations we had.

How To Host Fika At Your Place

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I personally think everyone should embrace the art of fika. At least, try it out – it’s fun. And you know what? It’s so easy to do. All you need is the following as a base, but remember, the more variety of food and drinks, the more interesting your fika will be. Fika can even be done like a potluck, where everyone brings a dish.

Fika essentials:

A good-quality drink of your choice, like coffee or tea (I don’t recommend alcohol for fika)
Some good food. A diverse variety of things to eat makes for pleasant sense indulgence, besides encouraging interesting conversation.
A comfortable place to have your food and drinks with your fika guests. A couch, a café or even a nice shady spot under a tree are perfect.

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Candles are optional but make a great addition. Then, invite some people over! This is where the art part comes in – the art of choosing / combining various food and drinks plus keeping good conversation going.

If your fika guests aren’t the talkative type or are just plain shy, gently get them to open up. Introduce interesting topics to discuss or bring something to the fika, like a good book or a poem. Encourage everyone to share their ideas, thoughts and opinions. Keep things pleasant and light-hearted – fika is not the time to bring up sensitive topics or start heated debates. If the conversation takes a negative turn, gently steer it back to something more conducive.

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Want to incorporate the art of Swedish living into your current lifestyle? Fika is where you start. It’s easy to organise, fun, sophisticated and a great way to bring people together.

Restaurant Review: Fuel Shack (Bangsar South, Malaysia)

by Jayna Valen

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So, we went out for lunch last week to this place, which is fairly new. If you want to try it out this weekend, it’s located in this building called Connexion @ Nexus, on the Ground floor between Souled Out and Starbucks, Bangsar South.

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I sulked a little after we chose our table and sat down, and I had a good look at what the other diners were having. It sucked even more once the food arrived. Why? Because this place makes me want to have a boyfriend, especially like this one bodybuilder ex I had.

You see, I absolutely loved the Coke Float, but the Fuel Shack serves it in only one size: freaking GIGANTIC. It was so much more convenient and fun to share large helpings of food when I was dating someone. Plus, when your date has the appetite of a water buffalo, you never have to worry about how you’d look pigging out, nor fret that any food would go to waste. Especially as a chick. So date me someone.

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Nah, I’m playing. I’d rather down my body weight’s worth of sugary carbonated float and welcome diabetes with open arms than risk yet another mess of a relationship, just so I can share a float. Which, by the way, I totally ended up wasting.

But seriously, Fuel Shack people, if any of you guys are reading this – wtf? PLEASE offer realistic sizes for floats. Pretty please. The stuff is delicious, but we’re not whales.

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The food in general is above average. We were a team of 10, so there was a variety of stuff I managed to get a taste of. I asked around and everyone seemed to agree with one thing more or less: the fare was a tad bit lacking in flavor and salt. It was pretty good stuff otherwise, reminiscent of TGI Friday’s and Chilli’s, just a little lacklustre overall.

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To their credit, all ingredients used in the dishes were incredibly fresh, and that’s something I really appreciate when it comes to eating out. The Chilli Chicken Fries (above – RM13) and Nachos (below – RM29) were amazingly good – couldn’t get enough of those. Fried Tempura Calamari, so-so (RM21).

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My Crispy-Skinned Grilled Salmon (below – RM38) had great texture, but the accompanying sauce (which was served separately) had an odd vinegary taste. I eagerly dumped the whole sauceboat over my salmon before I even had a taste, so don’t be the idiot that I was. I chose mac and cheese, sauteed vegetables and mushrooms for the three accompanying sides. Overall, my meal was alright, though slightly on the bland side. Pretty small helping of fish.

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Would I return? I would, since I work so near the place. But considering Bangsar South’s horrendous traffic situation, I’d probably not bother if I had to make a long journey to get here, or eat close to rush hour.

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The staff are lovely people too, good service. Be warned: if it’s your birthday, they’re going to make you stand on a chair and sing into a salt shaker.

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My Ratings:

Food (General): 7/10

Food (Crispy-Skinned Grilled Salmon): 6/10

Food (Chilli Chicken Fries): 8/10

Food (Nachos): 8/10

Food (Fried Tempura Calamari): 6/10

Food (BBQ Chicken Wings, according to my buddy Esmond): 7/10

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Drink (Coke Float): 8/10

General Cleanliness: 10/10

Service: 10/10

Price: 7/10

Location (PJ): 5/10

Will I go back again : 10/10

 

Related Posts:

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Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Devi’s Corner, Bangsar

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Sri Nirwana Maju, USJ 9

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Moorthys Mathai, USJ 4

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Sri Ganapathi Mess, PJ

Restaurant Review: Alexis Bistro And Wine Bar (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Do Crash Diets Really Work?

by Shrishthi Brahmarupa

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The short answer is, no – they don’t. The health experts were right. A healthy, balanced diet will do more to help you lose weight in the long term, but starving yourself is always a bad idea.

What happens with most ‘starve-yourself-skinny’ diets is this: while you may lose weight temporarily by depriving yourself of food, you’ll also mess up your normal metabolism and shock your body into ‘starvation mode’. When this happens, your body will start preparing to conserve more energy instead of burning it.

The old saying ‘you are what you eat’ couldn’t be more true. Think about this; the food you consume is constantly transforming into bits and pieces of your body – it gets digested and broken down, then replaces old, worn and dead cells. The better the quality of your food, the better the ‘quality’ of the body built from it. Now, what kind of results can one expect from a diet consisting of mainly factory-processed, synthetic-additive-laden or stale food?

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So guess what happens when you start eating normally again, or lose control and go on a food binge? Bingo. Your body stores more calories than usual. This is why on-and-off dieting (and extreme dieting) is bad for you in the long term.

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So what’s a better solution? Eating better and ‘eating cleaner’ consistently. Practise moderation and make educated choices when it comes to your food. Think long term, because it takes time for diet changes to reflect in your body.

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What you should aim for is healthy weight and a fit, strong body. Also, be realistic about your expectations. If you have a naturally bigger frame, you may never be skinny, even at your healthiest point.

On the other hand, if you’re lean no matter what you eat, it’s unwise to push your body too hard to artificially ‘bulk up’. This will put unnecessary strain on your system. Respect your body and how it naturally works. If you know you’re exercising adequately, eating clean and nourishing food, getting the rest you need and generally living a fairly healthy lifestyle, that’s good enough. Keep your fitness and health goals realistic and don’t harm your body.

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Dieting Myths

Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates, oils and fats are not bad for you. You actually need them in your diet so your body functions at an optimum level. For instance, you do need healthy fats and quality oils in your diet to keep your skin supple and your systems well-lubricated – you can get these from extra-virgin olive oil, ahimsa dairy products, unprocessed nuts and grains and ripe avocados (monounsaturated fat).

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The real culprits are overly-processed foodstuff with cheap, synthetic ingredients (preservatives, artificial color, etc). These are hard for your body to break down, digest and absorb effectively. These foods also leave all kinds of unhealthy residue in your system (known as ama in Ayurveda) and can cause various health issues like gas, bloating and allergies.

And that’s not all. Hardcore dieting can leech your body of important nutrients, causing lethargy, weakness, fainting, weak immunity, dry skin, acne, cracked heels and worse. Always aim for fresh, vitamin and mineral-rich foods.

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Here are a few quick lists (with examples) to help improve your diet as a long-term solution to weight management.

Foods to Avoid:

  • Processed carbohydrates (factory-made noodles, instant porridge)
  • Refined sugar (white cane sugar)
  • Low-grade cooking oil (recycled cooking oil)
  • Leftovers (no longer than 2 days in the refridgerator)
  • Margerine (all kinds)
  • Unrefrigerated cooked food (Ayurvedically considered unfit for consumption after 3 hours)
  • Processed fruit juices

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Healthy Food Substitutes:

  • Honey, brown sugar, palm sugar, molasses and jaggery (instead of white sugar)
  • Wholemeal bread (instead of white bread)
  • Unpolished, parboiled or brown rice
  • Fresh milk (instead of recombined or powdered milk)
  • Extra virgin or virgin vegetable oils (instead of fractionated oils)
  • Whole grains (instead of processed grains)
  • Wholemeal flour (instead of white flour)
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables (instead of canned or preserved)

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Additional Eat-Healthy Tips:

  • Consume something fresh every day (fruits or vegetables)
  • Match each serving of carbohydrates with an equal-sized serving of fresh produce
  • Eat normally for breakfast and lunch, but prepare a nutrient-dense, low-carbohydrate dinner (e.g. a large bowl of salad with a few cubes of feta cheese, plus a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil)

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A Final Note

Never torment your body for the sake of unrealistic ideals portrayed by the media. You may never be supermodel-skinny even at your healthiest point, and that’s perfectly okay.

Love your body, respect it, appreciate it and help it stay healthy. It’s been working hard for you since the day you were born, through millions of complex bodily processes every single day.

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Related Link:

Kitchiri, the Best Sattvic Detox Food

Fashion Photoshoot: Project Israa

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by Jayna Valen and Sashi

Why We Did It

Sashi is a friend of mine, and a civil engineer by profession. Like me, he’s an artist, passion-wise. We often speak about collaborating on art projects but are always too busy with our day jobs. However, it finally happened. This is the first art project we did together. And what can I say? It was an amazing experience. We had lots of fun and learned a lot in the process.

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As a fine art photographer, Sashi loves to explore unconventional ideas. I am no less eccentric, which is probably why we make a good team (when we’re not fighting, at least).

This shoot was pretty much a regular fashion shoot, but since it was the first time we were working together on a personal art project, we didn’t get too crazy with things. He gave me some basic guidelines on the mood and emotions he wanted to capture in the model, but he left the fashion styling and wardrobe choices entirely to me. I didn’t really know what to expect either, so I formed some mental concepts and decided to go with the flow.

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As an ex-fashion editor of CLEO and wardrobe stylist on film sets, I’d worked with a lot of models before. From directing photo shoots and costuming to doubling up as a makeup artist, I’ve done a bunch of these things and thoroughly enjoyed myself along the way, before I ditched it all for the drab stability of financial-services cubicle life. These projects are my escape routes from my self-inflicted, modern-day slavery.

I’ve also been a die-hard fan of Vogue and haute couture since I could read, so you can say fashion is in my blood. My mum is a seamstress; a very good one too. I had all my dresses tailor-made for me right up to my teens. Sometimes, I helped my mum sew, especially during Diwali when there was too much to do. I literally grew up steeped in fashion.DSC_2399-1

My Fashion Styling for the Model

Our model expressed her wishes to be shot in street-style denim and muted colors, with some implied nudity thrown in. In fact, she’d contacted Sashi after seeing his fine art photography with a nude model, so we knew she was comfortable with that kind of art.

I asked if she was okay to try a saree, and she was game. I was excited; I loved draping sarees on non-Indian women. With an Indian woman you kind of know what it’s going to look like, but with a woman of a different ethnicity, it’s always a wonderful surprise.

I requested for a few pictures of her, full-length and without makeup, to get some ideas and inspiration on how to dress her. Then, I began the process of picking the outfits.

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She is from Sudan, and had the exotic, ethnic features of people from that region. I decided to use outfits that contrasted with the idea of fashion that’s generally associated with people of African roots (bright colors, turbans, bold prints, etc.). I asked her to keep the makeup neutral and natural so it would blend with a variety of looks.

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Her major plus points were her lovely figure and long legs, so I decided to play those features up with the clothes I chose for her. I picked a raincloud-grey jersey dress, an acid-wash denim miniskirt and jacket combo, a white and blue Bohemian-inspired ensemble, a sheer beige chiffon top and finally, a black saree with champagne and frosted copper detailing. With the modern clothes, I was aiming for a breezy, natural look – the kind you’d see on a city girl who’d gotten dressed to stroll the streets on a beautiful summer’s day.

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I loved the way the pictures turned out, they were perfect to me. The ones of her in the saree stunned me though. I don’t know how or why, but she suddenly transformed into a goddess the minute I finished draping the material over her. She just immediately became more elegant and graceful. She glowed. A demure, dark radiance. A saree does that to women, I’ve noticed. It brings out that sacred feminine beauty in ways that other outfits simply can’t.

I chose the saree based on her name, which means ‘Night Journey’ in Arabic. Here she is, the dark moon draped in a galaxy of stars. And Sashi captured her resplendence perfectly, in that precise moment when our energies of creation aligned. I created the look, she created the magic and he created the art with a click.

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Sashi Speaks

As a photographer, it would be a crime to say the role of a photographer is only limited to identifying special moments. I can be vilified for such a claim by the photographers’ community. I don’t really care. With the advent of technology, endless auto-modes and presets, anyone can capture a good quality photograph, even with a mobile phone.

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So what separates a photographer from a camera owner? It’s the eye for tasteful details that touch the artist in everyone. It’s just like good music. Everyone likes it but no one knows why and the composer would have most certainly not composed it academically.

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I’ve always been on the receiving end of questions like what is it that I intend to convey through a particular photograph. My answer is always the same; none. Art is just a reflection of our inner being manifesting in completely purposeless action; purposeless as far as satiating our rudimentary survival needs is concerned.  Art is self-expression, something as simple as a wink or showing your middle finger in anger. It should not be academic. Do you calculate how high you have to raise your hand and the moment force to be applied to express the right amount of anger when you show your middle finger? That’s my type of photography. I don’t overthink the outcome. I don’t plan my shots. I don’t think about the rule of thirds, shadows behind the nasal bridge and the grains in the highlights. The details are always there for us to see, everywhere and anywhere, in the darkness and in bright sunshine. You don’t see the stars during the full moon and when you get to see the stars during new moon, you don’t get to see the moon. The moments are just beautifully unfolding perpetually. We fail to see them more often than not.

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I am an impulsive photographer. I click each time I see a good moment from my perspective. I don’t give out too many instructions, let alone clear ones. I told Shrishthi (Jayna) a few things. “I am a fine art photographer. Whoever I shoot and whatever the theme, I want my pictures to be a double edged sword. Seductive without being obscene, raw yet aesthetic, gracefully minimalistic. Strictly no manipulation of body parts. Capture human beauty in its natural state”.

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She suggested a little bit of makeup, some clothes, and maybe heels. I would rather take a lot of stick than to receive a diplomatic compliment. Diplomacy and normalcy are like flaccid dick. Not much use. A hard on is debatable. Men think a hard on makes them superhuman. Women feel it’s equally boring because men don’t last. But there it is; a double edged sword and hoopla. Anyway, I was just kidding.

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All three of us showed up on the day of the photoshoot. I set up some basic lighting. The stylist decided on the outfit, the model posed with the input from the stylist and I clicked. Both of them created the moments and the details for me. They were brilliant. I just needed to click at the right time. I think the outcome of their work was quite impressive.

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Related Links:

What Does it Take to be a Model?

BIGG BOSS: Oviya and Aarav – Are These Two For Real?

by Jayna Valen

I’ll admit it upfront; reality shows annoy me. The negativity, drama, gossiping and backstabbing are just not for me and I can’t seem to get entertained by these things. I followed America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway and Gene Simmons Family Jewels a few years back, but I lost interest in them pretty fast. When I first heard about Bigg Boss, I was like ‘no way in hell I’m watching that’. A bunch of South Indian celebrities locked in a house and made to pit themselves against one another? I could already predict how that was going to turn out.

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Eventually, curiosity got the best of me and I caved in. Looks like I’m not as ‘detached’ as I thought I was. My Facebook newsfeed was simply exploding with commentaries and dramatic references to Bigg Boss, especially about inmates Oviya and Aarav. I wanted to know what the Bigg Deal was, so I randomly watched a few episodes over the last few days.

Disclaimer: This article may offend hardcore fans of Bigg Boss, Oviya and Aarav. If you’re the sensitive or easily-offended type, the views expressed below (mine) may be unsuitable for you, and this is your cue to cease reading.

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How ‘Real’ are Reality Shows?

I don’t believe reality shows have anything genuine in them at all. I believe this show in particular is scripted, as in all the participants are briefed beforehand on how their ‘character’ should behave while the show is ongoing.

Here’s why I think that:

1. Common sense and logic. Just imagine yourself and a bunch of people being put in a situation where everything is under tight control (like the specially-constructed Bigg Boss house), and you’re constantly being filmed. You already know that thousands of viewers will be watching your every move and hearing your every word, including your relatives, friends, family and possible future employers.

How would you behave? Would you gossip, backstab others, shamelessly beg some idiot to love you, act like a complete asshole? Or would you be on your best behaviour? I don’t know about you, but I would be very careful about what I say and do.

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Guess what? Good behaviour is BORING. And boring behaviour doesn’t get the viewer numbers when it comes to show business. It’s all about marketing. Therefore, I strongly believe participants are told how to behave beforehand. A good mix of characters with some drama thrown in gets viewers interested. For example, a sweet girl-next-door type, a clowny character, a serious one, a jock-type jerk, a bitchy female, etc.

Bigg Boss seems to have a mix of characters that works. Now everyone is getting worked up. Everyone is on Oviya’s side. People hate Aarav and Julie. Raiza is the vain one, constantly plastering her face with makeup. They got the audience to do exactly what they wanted – get agitated, create conversation and follow the series.

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2. Abnormal situations. Take for instance the Oviya-Aarav drama. In the normal world, generally speaking, even a regular girl has a pretty high level of self-respect and dignity. Rarely would a woman tolerate such poor treatment from a man, even if she liked him a lot. Even simple, girl-next-door types get tons of messages, FB likes and friend requests from men on social media.

So why would Oviya, an established model and actress, knowingly humiliate herself in front of thousands of viewers, chasing after and begging some mediocre guy for attention? Do people honestly think Oviya doesn’t know her real self-worth? Do viewers think Oviya doesn’t get flooded with attention from tons of admirers? I mean, come on. It doesn’t make sense no matter how you look at it. It’s part of her script to act pathetic around Aarav, so the audience gets emotional about the nice girl making a fool out of herself.

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In addition, let’s consider Aarav. Most guys would be flattered with female attention, especially from a girl like Oviya. However, his unnecessarily mean attitude at times makes me question if his behaviour is genuine at all. His attitude is just too bizarre, too over-the-top to be believable. Granted, Aarav is fairly good-looking, but not enough to warrant that kind of arrogance.

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3. Viewership and numbers. A show that doesn’t get enough viewers is going to fail. Everything is about money. Why on earth would producers risk such a big investment in the show, throw a ton of money at Kamal and get him to host, THEN leave things to chance and ‘see what happens’? Smart business people don’t do that. Everything is carefully crafted to ensure a profitable return.

What if the participants are all nice to each other, help one another and just be sweet and kind throughout? Nobody’s going to watch that dull shit. They need some blood-pumping action, some drama. They need the sweet girl to lose her dignity and beg an arrogant jerk to love her back. THAT gets the viewers riled up. THAT makes the show a success. That brings in the moolah. It’s all about money at the end of the day.

Having said all that, here are a few things I learned from watching just a few episodes of the show.

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LESSON 1: A woman should never, EVER lose her dignity over a man. I think it’s better to be single. It’s better to remain unmarried or even get divorced, than to be with a man who shows so little respect to his woman. That’s not how relationships work.

And to women who cling to their menfolk despite abuse or mistreatment, come on. Of the 7 billion-odd people in the world, you really couldn’t find someone else? Don’t wait for a bone to be thrown your way like a starving stray dog. Leave. Get a job, ask for help and support from NGOs, get counselling, just do something. There’s so many options available to you if you’re only willing to try. Sure, it’s not always easy to leave, but there must be something you can try at least.

I guess the same thing applies to a man as well – if your woman is mistreating you (and you can’t discuss your issues like adults and solve them), be a real man and leave. There is ALWAYS someone better out there. I don’t know what they paid Oviya to degrade herself that way with Aarav, but I hope it was worth it.

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LESSON 2: Be really careful about the people you choose to trust. I mean people you share your deepest thoughts and secrets with. There’s one fact that is simply amplified in the show (whether real or scripted) – humans are unpredictable. They can be friends with you one minute and enemies the next. Just be careful who you trust your confidential information with.

LESSON 3: Be yourself and act like it. Get clear about who you really are, what your beliefs and principles are in life, then act like YOURSELF. The problem with some people is that they’re constantly trying to be something they’re not. That means following an inner script that isn’t natural. In other words, if you act in a way that’s not true to yourself, sooner or later that façade is going to fall apart. A fake image or charade usually crumbles under emotional pressure or stress. People will then find out the truth, and that’s never going to be pretty.

In Conclusion…

I think stuff like this serves only one purpose, which is entertainment. Nothing wrong with a little good fun, so why not? Watch it. Talk about it with friends. But if you find yourself getting overly involved in the drama, you may want to consider taking a step back.

What Does It Take to be a Model?

by Jayna Valen

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The modelling industry is an extremely competitive one, especially runway (catwalk) modelling. The more elite the agency, the more rigid the requirements for models. Malaysia’s modelling industry is more modest in terms of selection criteria and competitiveness, but still certain rules are non-negotiable.

What Do Top Models Earn?

According to Forbes, 36-year-old Brazillian supermodel Gisele Bunchen made $30.5 million in 2016 alone. She’s currently the highest paid model in the world. In the same year, Adriana Lima and Kendall Jenner earned over $10 million each, while Gigi Hadid and Cara Delevigne raked in approximately $9 million and $7 million respectively.

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Victoria’s Secret Angels Adriana Lima and Alessandra Ambrosio

My Experience with Modelling

I was never a professional model. At 5 feet 5 inches barefoot, I’d fall short of most local and international catwalk height requirements. However, I’ve done some runway work in my late teens and early 20s, though I don’t consider that phase of my life anything more than interesting snippets of experience. I am also a woman of color, and if I am to be brutally honest, that fact wouldn’t have done me any major favors in showbiz, even if I fulfilled all other criteria to make it in modelling.

This is how I ended up modelling: Back in college, I often accompanied my bombshell-gorgeous friends to casting sessions and auditions. That’s how I got offers for local runway modelling shows. The pay was rubbish, but it was a lot of fun.

It also gave me quite a bit of insight into the world of modelling. I LOVE fashion. I grew up on Vogue, adored haute couture and worshipped Karl Lagerfeld, so it was nothing short of an amazing experience for me.

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Photographer: Sattvic Desnudo

The early years of my ‘real’ career started in fashion and lifestyle magazines, and I helped out close friends on film sets. I also had my own column in CLEO, where I worked as a fashion editor. This gave me the opportunity to work with local and international models. It was hectic but I loved it more than modelling; directing photoshoots, doubling-up as a makeup artist, working with props, helping out in editing and post-production. Working with models and actors afforded me more opportunities to use my creative talents as an artist (which I preferred to being plastered in makeup and standing around in uncomfortable clothes for long hours). I’m just too restless, not to mention easily bored.

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What are the Requirements for a Runway Model?

Quite a bit, especially if you’re looking at the big names in high fashion like Dior, Chanel, Gucci, Armani and Alexander McQueen. Local Malaysian standards are a little more lax, unless it’s an elite, famous agency.

International catwalk modelling standards are generally:

  • Minimum height (barefoot): 5 feet 9 inches (6 feet for supermodels)
  • Defined facial bone structure (high cheekbones, angular jawline)
  • A very slim build (US dress size 4 – 8)
  • Aged between 16-24
  • Striking facial features
  • A confident strut
  • A clear complexion and healthy hair
  • A significant number of followers on social media

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Besides that, a model also needs to:

  • Have a high level of self-discipline (schedule and timing)
  • Stand and walk for long hours in high heels (females)
  • Tolerate extended wear of thick makeup
  • Be disciplined enough to exercise and eat wisely
  • Work long and / or odd hours
  • Have a lot of patience (lots of waiting, especially in full makeup and clothes)
  • Accept criticism about their physical flaws
  • Ignore backstabbing and catty comments from other models
  • Travel at short notice
  • Have a flexible personal schedule
  • Have an understanding family / partner

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In a Nutshell

Modelling can be great fun and often comes with a lot of perks. The all-expenses-paid flights, meals, makeup, clothes and other freebies, the beautiful runway setups, the famous people you get to meet and of course, all that glamor. However, it’s a short-lived career for most, as the industry is always ready to drop older models for the next young thing that comes along.

If you’re at that stage in life where you can consider modelling, I say go for it. If you’re fresh out of school, it would be wise to think of a long-term career plan while you try these experiences out. After all, you’re only young once. Just remember to have fun doing it and don’t take things way too seriously.

What Happens Backstage During a Modelling Show?

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It goes something like this. Models generally have to be there about 2 to 3 hours earlier to have their hair and makeup done. If it’s a big show with many models, that could mean up to 4 or 5 hours earlier. You’ll be told to come in bare-faced and with freshly-washed hair.

The makeup artist will generally start with a makeup primer (something like a moisturizer), then a coat of foundation (pretty much skin-colored paint) to even out skin tone. Corrective makeup like concealer is used under eyes to hide dark circles, cover up redness from acne and so on. Then the rest of it goes on: eyeshadow, blush, contouring and highlight powders, eyeliner, eyebrow definer, mascara, lipstick, lip gloss, false eyelashes, setting powder and more, all applied with various types of makeup brushes and sponges. If special-effect makeup or face-painting is required, this whole process takes even longer.

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The hairstylists will usually prime the hair with a serum or mousse, then blow-dry the hair section by section to the desired style. This can also be very time-consuming, especially for models with long hair. Hair spray is often used liberally on the finished look, and this is just for basic hairdos – more elaborate styles can require ribbons, feathers, pearls, rhinestones, lace and flowers.

Then, it’s time for the outfits. Models usually come in a few days before the show to have the clothing fitted for them (alterations done to ensure a perfect fit on the runway). Putting on the clothes is the easiest part unless the costumes are elaborate, such as in bridal shows. Once the models are dressed, it’s usually a long waiting process before they get to go on stage and model the outfit.

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The waiting-in-costume part really sucks, because you can’t really eat or drink anything for fear of ruining the lip makeup. If the outfit is delicate, long or elaborate, it means you may not be able to go to the bathroom for a few hours (after the LONG process of waiting through the hair and makeup sessions, can you imagine holding your pee even longer?) You end up cursing the organisers, cursing the guys setting up the stage, cursing your fellow models with ‘easier’ outfits.

There’s usually a rehearsal or two before the actual show, so that models know their cue to go up on stage. The rehearsals also help models get the ‘feel’ of catwalk strut timing to the music chosen for the show. This part is really important so models are walking on and off the stage in sync and you don’t get some girls walking faster, some slower, or too many models on the stage at once. There are invisible ‘lines’ and ‘markers’ on the runway: places to stand and strike poses, the lines to walk along without colliding into the other models, etc.

Also, models need to be able to handle unexpected wardrobe malfunctions on stage (yes, it happens more often than you think). I remember modelling a saree at one show, and when I stopped at the end of the runway to do that momentary pose, I realized that the threads at the hem of my saree were caught tightly in my stiletto buckle. I panicked, standing there longer than I should, unsure of what to do next. I was afraid to rip the saree or pull it undone in front of the audience. So I did the best thing I could think of at that moment – I pretended to strike a few more poses, all the while twisting my ankle in various directions hoping to free the threads. Thank goodness it worked, and nobody noticed anything unusual. It was a good lesson I learned that day too: keep your cool even if you’ve messed up, and chances are most people won’t notice a thing.

Want to Get Started in Modelling?

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First, you’ll need to decide what type of modelling work you’re interested in. If you don’t have the height for runway modelling, don’t despair. You can try petite modelling (height requirements are between 5’2 to 5’6) or just do print and media work like advertisements. There’s also plus-size modelling, body parts modelling and more.

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Plus-size Model

Once you’ve decided on the type of modelling work you want to do, you can either sign up with an agency or do the rest yourself. This essentially means putting together a portfolio of professional photographs of yourself in various modelling poses. An agency may also teach you some basics to begin with, such as catwalk strutting techniques, how to style yourself and how to do your own professional makeup. If you ask me, however, you don’t really need an agency for these things. See if you can collaborate on a TFP (time for print) basis with photographers, fashion stylists and makeup artists – this means you don’t have to pay them, but they get to use your photographs for their own portfolios in exchange for their services. TFP is a good way for all parties involved to get more exposure and credibility in their own industries, especially if everyone’s just starting out.

Last but not least, develop thick skin. Be prepared for rejection and lots of it. Some clients can be downright mean and brutal. The thing to bear in mind is that rejection doesn’t mean you’re flawed or not good enough; the client probably just had a different idea in mind to begin with. Be resilient and keep trying. You may need to work without pay for the first few jobs until you have something to show for yourself (references, photos).

I will leave newbies and young aspirants with one word of caution, especially girls: be wary of who you work with in modelling. The industry is not short of its share of perverts, creeps and shady characters who are willing to exploit naive newcomers. Be very cautious and think carefully before you agree to work with someone, especially if they require you to pay money upfront, insist on nude or obscene shots and so on. Be VERY clear on what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not willing to do, and stand by your decisions. Respect your body. Tell a trustworthy person where you’re going when you start attending auditions or casting sessions – your safety is priority at all costs.

Banana Leaf Mythbusters: Devi’s Corner (Bangsar, Malaysia)

by Jayna Valen

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It baffles me as to why this place is still so popular. Is it just the closest and most convenient place for Bangsar folks to have a full banana leaf meal? I’m not sure, but I’ll stick with that assumption.

Alicia and me went over during lunch hour on Tuesday. It’s been five years since I last ate here, and this visit served to remind me why I didn’t bother going back. We were seated for a good 15 minutes with no one coming over to take our order or ask us what we wanted. We tried to wave some waiters over, but our existence in that restaurant was about as significant as their greasy furniture. Eventually, one came over and said “Banana leaf upstairs.”

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Why, thank you. Perhaps you should have waited till we were on the brink of starvation before making that grand revelation.

So yes, it did appear that upstairs had a pretty well-oiled system of banana leaf food service going on. Service was prompt, systematic and quick, but don’t expect friendliness or warmth. Fairly clean environment overall, by local standards.

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Food:

In general, everything served here was overwhelmingly commercial-masala-powder bland, if you know what I mean. It just made me sad. There was no personal touch, no secret spice blend. Nothing sexy to entice the tongue or excite the senses. No enthusiasm on the cook’s part (considering the wages they’re probably paid, who can blame them?). Food was fairly fresh, though some of the chutneys were cold.

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I asked for the house specialty curry, and this dude unceremoniously dumped a truckload of crab curry onto my rice before I could say anything. Well, okay, that just meant I couldn’t try any other curry since my leaf was literally flooded. The verdict? The crab curry tasted of nothing but factory-milled masala. I may as well have swallowed a bag of curry powder with a glass of hot water. Fried veggies were crisp and drenched in oil. And there wasn’t enough mango in the sugar chutney.

Perhaps their only saving grace was the mutton, but even that was suffocating in masala. The least they could do to honor the fact that a goat gave its life up for our tamasic needs was to, at least, cook it properly (well, sorry for the disservice, goat). I was too depressed to even ask for mooru molega and rasam.

Bear in mind that this review is just a reflection of my own personal taste and opinions, and I am an excellent cook. If I cooked like that at home though, I’d probably be on the receiving end of really good seruppu adi from my mum, plus liberal cringeworthy thuppe from my brothers. Just to be fair, I asked Alicia to taste everything I ate – similar sentiments from her side.

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By the way, here’s a little more info about the pricing. One banana leaf set, one side of mutton, a glass of cold water and a glass of lychee juice came up to RM27. I’m not even going to bother going into details about the breakdown. Here’s an interesting fact though: the lychee drink is RM 5.50 downstairs, and RM6.50 upstairs. Why? Air-conditioning.

So, was it worth my time, total Uber fare price of RM15, plus my bill and experience? Should you visit this place? I’ll let you decide.

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My Ratings:

Food (Standard Vegetarian Banana Leaf meal): 4/10
Food (Signature Dish – Mutton peratal): 6/10
Food (Signature Dish – Crab Curry): 3/10
General Cleanliness: 6/10
Service: 5/10
Price: 4/10
Location (Bangsar): 4/10
Will I go back again : Maybe if kaijus destroyed the Klang Valley and this was the only place left standing.

Address: No. 14, Jalan Telawi 4, Bangsar Baru, 59100 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Opening Hours: 24-hour restaurant

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