Sweating it out at the HSBC Women’s Champions

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Day 1 for me at the HSBC Women’s Champions is wrapped! Yes, the tournament’s been going for a good 2 days, but it’s the first time I’ve been able to head out on the course to catch my sister in action.

It was a lovely day - sunny, breezy, but oh, so hot! The course is beautiful, the perfect backdrop really. Even this mean old bunker managed to turn out looking so beautiful as it swallowed her in its vastness!

It was a lovely day – sunny, breezy, but oh, so hot! The course is beautiful, the perfect backdrop really. Even this mean old bunker managed to turn out looking so beautiful as it swallowed her in its vastness!

It’s been an absolute whirlwind week for her, and for me as well, just keeping up with all the articles in the news about her! Out of all of them, this one on Yahoo news is without a doubt my favourite. She’s in last place, but against the top players in the world, I couldn’t be more proud!

Here she is again at the tee box. I'm pretty proud of this  awesome shot I managed to get of her, right after taking a bunch of hilarious ones of her stuffing her face with homemade porridge to the horror of her flight mate. What can I say. Can take the girl outta Singapore, but can't take the Singapore outta her.

Here she is again at the tee box. I’m pretty proud of this awesome shot I managed to get of her, right after taking a bunch of hilarious ones of her stuffing her face with homemade porridge to the horror of her flight mate. What can I say. Can take the girl outta Singapore, but can’t take the Singapore outta her.

I think everyone knows i’m not the most suited to spending time on the golf course. In fact, I arrived late, and promptly got lost trying to find her flight – only everyone could see me wandering around aimlessly, because my dressing is apparently not what people normally see at a golf game.

In my defense, I only rolled my top up cos it was bloody hot, and I have been  wanting to update the tan on my abs for ages! Also, it makes #GOHtime super obvious. REPRESENT!

In my defense, I only rolled my top up cos it was bloody hot, and I have been wanting to update the tan on my abs for ages! Also, it makes #GOHtime super obvious. REPRESENT!

One of my proudest moments today has been teaching my mum how to use a hashtag. Least I could do in the couple of hours I was there! I didn’t of course last even 9 holes, before adjourning to the lovely Sentosa suites for some wine, air con and other treats. Can’t wait to be back again tomorrow for the last day of #GOHtime!

Victory on the golf course – its #GOHtime!

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Yesterday was such a proud and happy day for me. Every year, around this time, my sister flies back to play the qualifiers of the HSBC Women’s Champions. And this afternoon, I received the call to say that SHE WON IT. I don’t even know how to describe how proud, happy and excited and relieved I am!

HSBC’s pretty much the biggest tournament she’s ever played in, since its an actual LPGA event, plus also super competitive. Of course, she isn’t at the standard of the pros of the LPGA get, though i’m sure one day she will be. Where she always fights hard is for just the chance to play alongside them. It may not sound like a big deal, but trust me, IT IS.

That's her the last time she qualified in 2011. Watching her miss out in 2012 was heart-wrenching, and I'm so happy and relieved that she's made it through this year again!

That’s her the last time she qualified in 2011. Watching her miss out in 2012 was heart-wrenching, and I’m so happy and relieved that she’s made it through this year again!

There’s not a large pool of female golfers in Singapore who are committed to making this a profession. Even then, there is just a single coveted slot for ONE local qualifier to be part of the tournament. If anything, this is always her most important tournament of the year, especially because she comes back to play it on home ground.

I’m not gonna lie, golf is a stressful sport, and can be really brutal. I see it when she’s played through sickness, gotten beat because of one bum hole, collapsed in tears and congratulated friends who won it over her. It’s not easy, when there’s only room for one success story each year. And its not easy, the life of an aspiring athlete, especially in Singapore. Add on that the pressure of not having an alternative career as a safety net, and its a tricky situation that goes wayyy beyond the stresses of the game itself.

We’ve cleared just one tiny hurdle today. Now, its hard work for the main event, and of course, not losing sight of the main goal – to make this a career. It’s only just begun!

My first radio interview!

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Today was my first time being interviewed as a guest on radio, and boy was it fun!! Surprisingly, while I’ve been into the broadcast studios numerous times, I’ve never actually been on the end of the mic, and it sure is a different experience!

I took to the air with Zee and good folks of Kiss92 to talk about Mosaic Dance on their KisSME segment – which is a program that documents the trials and tribulations of newcomers in the local SME industry.

Maddy, Jason and Arnold were our hosts and they couldn’t have made it any easier or more fun! It really was like chatting with new friends over mics instead of coffee, and I’m so glad to be able to get our story out there. It’s been 2 years of hard work, but all completely worth it and I can’t wait to welcome some of their listeners to our studio.

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Hope this wont be the last time we meet up the lovely threesome. In the meantime, I’d better work on my voice so I sound less like a 12 year old boy on air!! It was a prerecorded segment that we did and I could not recognise the sound of my own voice at all, until the words started sounding like something I’d said before! But overall, great fun and full of respect for these guys and their boundless energy and wit!

Thanks Kiss92 for welcoming us into your studio! You made a Monday morning rock – and that’s a tough thing to do!

My students say the darnest things!

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Learning to teach dance was one of the things I never really imagined myself doing. In fact, when one thinks of me, I’m sure the words patient and nurturing will likely be some of the last to come to mind. But pleasantly, the last 18 months or so of being a teacher as well as a student has been strangely rewarding.

Now over a year in, I must say teaching has really grown on me. There’s a strange satisfaction from sharing what you love with others, so much so that it takes your mind of all the other stuff that’s bothering you…

There are the breakthrough moments, the candid moments, the ah-ha moments, and the moments that make you want to collapse on the floor in laughter and challenge you to keep a straight face. And then there are moments like this, when suddenly, one of your students just opens your eyes and reminds you why it’s just so important to keep learning. This one comes courtesy of Kia Wee, who’s somewhere far away in Europe, making a valiant effort to learn the local tongue:

Some similarities I’ve observed between learning a new language and learning how to dance from scratch.

1. The teacher makes it sound like it’s as easy as breathing. It’s not.

2. When I try speaking in class, it’s hard to be understood.

3. I don’t understand what’s being said to me in class either.

4. Everything’s way too fast outside of class.

5. Conversing outside of class with native speakers is laughably awkward.

6. Stringing together words was a lot easier in class when I had time to construct a sentence.

7. A friend who’s a native speaker and is willing to listen to semi-coherent attempts helps a lot.

8. Repeating the class helps, but I still don’t understand half of what the teacher is saying.

Love it. This one goes in the book of this teacher’s priceless gems!

New feline additions to the family!

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I’m SOOOOO happy and excited! Just got a message earlier today that our cat, who well, went out and got herself pregnant by one of the stray males in our neighbourhood, gave birth to three healthy kittens!

Here they are, just minutes after being born!! 

I couldn’t contain myself, I just HAD to see them as soon as I received this picture. So, thanks to the graces of technology, I met the little three, who had fluffed out after drying up and had already started snuggling and sleeping curled up on each other, over FaceTime. Yes, my kitties are VERY tech savvy.

There’s a yellow one, a cow-printed one, and one that will turn out to be either mottled brown and black, or tortoiseshell, it’s hard to tell right now. We’re also pretty bad at figuring out if they’re boys or girls, so any tips on how to do so would be extremely welcome!

It’s the first cat litter that we’ve had “in-house” – all of our kittens (who are now cats of course) were orphaned strays that we adopted, born in the drains outside our house. That’s exactly how we found her mother.

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Our new mother (top right) and her 3 other litter mates back at Christmas 2011, when they were all wee little things. Unfortunately, out of the four orphaned kitties, only her and her brother (bottom right), made it to adulthood.

So the tragic thing is that usually, the whole litter doesn’t survive. Someone always falls sick, gets trapped, or meets an untimely end with a dog. I’m hoping against hope that this litter is going to buck that trend. Losing a kitty, even if it isn’t raised as your cat, is painful. And since this is our first real litter, it will be twice as bad! I’m already bracing myself for the day i have to give them up for adoption and say goodbye, and it’s only Day 1!

Till then though, I can most definitely promise many more updates and overdoses of kitty cuteness to come…

Ain’t no party like a Mosaic party!

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Clearly, the year end celebrations have already begun and aren’t about to let up! And what a way to kick it off than with our very own. I must say that these guys threw one mean beach shebang. It was fun, games, bikinis, booze and water fights in the best way possible! It was really, just one word. EPIC.

We had SO much fun at the Wavehouse, which was all empty after 2 intense nights of ZoukOut and pretty much ours to enjoy! And enjoy we did!

We had SO much fun at the Wavehouse, which was all empty after 2 intense nights of ZoukOut and pretty much ours to enjoy! And enjoy we did!

The best part of it really was forgetting about being teachers or students, about technique, counts and staying on the beat and just getting out there – and clearly from the photos, its STILL apparent that you can obviously take the dancer off the dance floor but that ain’t gonna be stopping anyone! Got to meet so many people who were familiar faces from another dance style, and I think everyone got to feel how awesome it is to be, well, friends both on AND off the dance floor – just like we are in our team. We even discovered some of the hidden talents of our students! I’ll never be able to look at Jay again after seeing him devour that watermelon, and also, who knew that Wei Li was such an amazingly talented photographer?

I can't even begin to say how good he is at making us look great! Hands down one of my favourite shots of the day with the lovely ladies of Mosaic.

I can’t even begin to say how good he is at making us look great! Hands down one of my favourite shots of the day with the lovely ladies of Mosaic. Check out the rest of his work at http://www.bythewei.com.

A huge effort and I’m sure quite a pretty penny went into getting the lovely venue, and planning the program and games, so Zee and Derrick really deserve all the props as party planners.

With the dude that started us salsa dancing some 7 years ago… who’d have thought we’d be where we are now?

Had such a kickass time that really, these guys are gonna have their work cut out for them to top this with our next do. All of use will most definitely be waiting! Till then, cheers to my friends, new and old, to a great year, and an even better one ahead!

Turn any vacation into a great dancing holiday

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For the salsa-addicted, any holiday is a great opportunity to get a taste of a new flavour of dancing, no matter where you are. Since holiday season is pretty much upon us now, I thought it’d be a good time to share a few ways to get into the local salsa scene quick, no matter where you find yourself.

I was inspired to do this after my first time out salsa dancing in Orlando, a city had visited 3 times before, yet never bothered to dance in because I had no idea where to go, who to go with, or what Orlando’s salsa scene was like. If this year’s first foray taught me anything, is that it’s pretty easy to find good dancing if you know how to look for it! So here’s a bunch of quick and easy steps to that will really help

1. Get introduced

As long as you know that a dance scene – salsa or whatever your poison is – exists where you’re headed, chances are you will know someone who has friends familiar with that destination and can recommend places to go. Ask one of your instructors or the more experienced dancers, and it’s really as easy as having them send a message on Facebook to link you up and viola – insider advice on where to dance!

2. Do your research

In the absence of a local guide or point of contact, the internet is a great place to turn for good places to go. Chances are, there will be a whole lot of options online, but you really want to narrow it down to one or two strong ones. I try to choose socials or parties led by studios, so that you know that the social will be all about dancing. I also go for the biggest ones possible, like once a month parties that will likely draw a good number of local dancers out. Remember, you don’t need to find the BEST event, just the event with the most dancers so that you can then start making friends to find out where the best dancing really is.

3. Observe

When you get to your first party/social, take a few songs to first figure out the lay of the land. What is the predominant style of dance? How good are the dancers at holding their line, timing and space? Where are the ones that dance On2? This takes a while to figure out at a big event, but will go a long way in helping you have a good first night out once you are able to spot the people you want to look out for and the ones you want to dance with. Even if you have arrived with a friend and don’t need to figure things out alone, you didn’t come all the way to dance with each other when you could back home. Take the time to people watch. I promise it will tee you up for more nights of even better dancing.

4. Meet people

The first question I get on the dancefloor is “Are you from here?” Not surprising then, that the question that follows is always on where I’m from. So remember, you’re always an ambassador to your home country. Make an effort for each dance, smile, try to remember as many names as possible and take an interest in their dance scene. Find dancers whose styles complement yours and whom you enjoy dancing with, and ask them for their take on the best places to dance – most would be more than happy to tell you exactly where to go to make your visit and dancing experience the best it can be. Be forthcoming, make friends, and exchange contacts or Facebook adds to stay in touch. These are the same people that will send you event invites, welcome you into their group of dancing friends, and help with driving directions for the next time.

5. Stay in touch

Your new found friends will be your dancing kakis away from home. Don’t be shy to ask where they’re dancing during the week, tell them where you’re going and urge them to join, or just ask how they are and tell them how much you enjoyed dancing with them. They’re going to return the favour by making sure you know where they’re headed and you can be sure that if anything, you’ll have plenty of chances to have good dances and get to meet more people that dance the same style. You’d be surprised, but just a few nights of dancing together can turn you into friends who arrange to meet up again at congresses around the world. I know I met a few this trip and already can’t wait till our next dance together!

So next time you’re overseas and itching to go out dancing, there’s really no excuse. Bring your shoes and a smile and you’ll be ready to tear it up no matter where you are!

Great salsa socials in NYC

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All my trips to NYC are planned pretty much around one thing – dancing. Yes, there’s the amazing food, yes there’s arts and culture but really, it’s the one place I go to be inspired and to get better at what I enjoy most.

New York really is a mecca for any On2 dancer, with top instructors and teams all over the city, great social dancing to be had almost every night of the week, and dancers that are fanatical enough to hit one social after the other in a single night, dancing for up to 8 hours straight. In short, it’s HEAVEN.

As a “salsa tourist”, the go-to resource for places to dance is Salsa New York’s Mambo Events Calendar. It’s definitely not a complete view of your dancing options, but definitely a great start. There’s a whole lot of options here, but I always plan to be there from Thursdays to Sundays for the best dancing. Here’s my pick of the best options on and off the site, all of them ridiculously easy for someone who’s a first-timer to NYC to get to:

Thursday nights at Club Cache

Off the calendar but known to every salsa dancer in NYC, this is pretty much the best club-setting social to go to. It’s literally an underground club right off Times Square, so it’s really central, easy to get to and away from, and you never have to worry about going back at night alone in the dark, because the street outside is just bustling with activity all the time. Unlike other latin clubs who normally go full-on with the merengue, bachata and reggaeton, it’s pretty much classic salsa and chacha here, which is great! Because this is a proper club, you don’t wanna show up there at 9pm – doors only open at 10 and things only start heating up closer to 11. The great thing though, is that dressing fancy isn’t required. Go for casual and comfy because it does get hot, no matter how cold it is outside. And if you look young and Asian like me, bring ID – they check. They regularly have guest performances just about every week so check the schedule at www.clubcachenyc.com. Club Cache is at 221 W 46th Street, right off Times Square. Walk down the street from American Eagle, towards the Church of Scientology, and look out on your right for a non-descript door that leads you underground. Cover is $11 after 10.30pm.

Friday Nights – An Evening with Abakua

Otherwise known as “Frankie’s social”, this is my top pick for Friday nights. There are a few other midtown Manhattan options, but I find that the dancers and the music here are better as far as Fridays go – Frankie Martinez himself mans the decks after all, and a lot of the dancers are his students. The social happens at Club 412 or the “You Should Be Dancing” studio, which is located right beside Madison Square Garden and Penn station. After 10 is a good time to arrive, and you will have to buzz yourself in to get to the party on the 4th floor. Just follow the dancers and loud music. Cover is $10 and while its rather dark and quiet at night, K-town and all its 24-hour food places is a just a couple of streets down if you’re up for a post-dancing Korean supper. Remember to check on the Salsa NY Calendar for dates though, as this social happens every alternate week. You don’t wanna end up there when there is no dancing to be had. Club 412 is on the 4th floor of 412 8th Avenue, between 30th and 31st.

Salsamania Saturdays

Saturday has always been a bit of a tricky day for finding good dancing without having to leave Manhattan. The Saturday schedule has been very fluid and seems to change every year, with new options popping up all the time. The latest addition to the mix, Salsamania Saturdays at the Dancesport Studios, right by the Empire State Building. The dancefloor is lovely, because its a huge ballroom studio, there’s a full bar to boot. Good music, and many friendly faces and regulars showed up the one night I went, so this does look like the Saturday spot of choice for now. Again, studio social style and no need for fancy dressing. Every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month at 22 W 34th street on the 4th floor. Cover is $11. Go early, because it’s one of those “evening” socials, so it’s good to arrive from 6 – 7, cos dancing ends at 9.30pm – just in time to hit a night time social if you feel like a trek out to Brooklyn.

Sundays at Jimmy Anton’s / LVG

Sunday is by far, the BEST day for dancing in NYC. Socials on Sunday tend to be earlier evening ones – just so that people are able to head to work the next day. One great thing to do, if you have the stamina, is to attend Eddie Torres’ classes at Nola’s, before heading out to hit the dance floor with your technique sharpened and ready for more fancy footwork. It’s tough, but it’s great.

There are two awesome Sunday evening social options. Every 1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday of the month is Jimmy Anton night. Jimmy’s is a veritable NY salsa institution – the longest running and most well attended social by far. It’s a hot, sweaty salsa mess in the best way possible, with tunes spun by Jimmy Anton himself and all the best in NY and NJ out to play. Dress for comfort and bring a change of clothes if you know yourself to get soaked dancing – you’ll need it. Arriving around 6.30pm gives you ample time to dance with a comfortable amount of space before the crowd really hits. You’ll also be dancing through dinner time, so bring snacks or eat something before. Jimmy’s happens from 5 – 9pm at Dance Manhattan, on the 5th floor of 39 W 19th, between 5th and 6th. You’re looking for a lift lobby right below these tiger flags for a martial arts studio.

The other option for the 2nd and 4th Sundays is La Vieja Guardia, or LVG for short. I last attended this when it was still happening on Saturdays, and didn’t get to try it this year, but I remember the music and dancing being absolutely awesome, and NY’s salsa regulars and insiders tell me that this is one of the best socials to go for right now. LVG happens at 335 W 35th (between 8th and 9th) on the 5th floor. Again, its an evening social so don’t arrive late. Dancing wraps by 9.

If you’re headed to the Big Apple and want to check out some dancing, hope this helps. Again, I’ve never actually been dancing outside of Manhattan so this really is my view of what’s near and easy to get to/away from when you’re done. Remember, things do change up quite a bit, and I can only say that this is correct at the time of posting. More tips though, on making the most of an overseas dancing trip coming soon!

Five Foodie Faves in the Big Apple

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My trip to the States was over all too soon, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t share all the things that made it wonderful for anyone going again to enjoy! One of the biggest joys by far – the food.

New York really is a foodie paradise, and anyone who visits the city and loves food will most definitely have their list of top eats. From fine dining options that need to be booked months in advance, to great gems tucked away in the streets and avenues, NY really does have it all. Here are my top picks from the last 5 years of visiting the city, ones that I have made a point to return to year after year.

1. Riki

We chanced upon Riki on my first trip to New York for the NY Salsa Congress in 2008. It’s a little Japanese restaurant hidden away almost underground on 45th, between 3rd and Lexington. The clientele is almost exclusively Japanese, which was a promising sign for us when we got there, and we weren’t disappointed. I’ve returned every year since for the Takenoko Curry Ramen, which is awesome comfort food on a cold day – with bits of onions, mushroom, bamboo shoots, beef and pork in a rich broth, as well as their awesome grilled skewers. My favourites are the tuna, beef tongue and chicken shio ones, but do ask them what’s on the special menu for the day as that really is one of the ways to try some amazing stuff.

Safely my favourite NYC food find, they’re super authentic, unpretentious and all around YUMMY. We went there twice this trip, and would have done more if we could!

Prices are about $10 and up for main dishes and around $6 for a small plate/side, which is really reasonable for New York. Best of all, this place opens LATE – till 1am if I remember right. Reservations are a must if you want a dinner slot on a weekend, unless you are prepared for a long wait. Restaurant Riki is at 141 E 45th St.

2. Carnegie Deli

What’s a visit to the Big Apple without a good pastrami sandwich at one of the city’s famous delis? We all know how much I love my meat, and Carnegie’s really is a meat-lover’s playground. Yes, yes, tell me its a tourist trap and all, but it’s that famous for a reason, and damn, this stuff is good! Dining at Carnegie’s is almost a visual spectacular. From the moment you step in, the walls are just COVERED with autographed photos of celebrities who have come to visit and enjoy the legendary sandwiches. I’m a creature of habit, and I love my beef. So I always order the Woody Allen, a half-corned beef, half-pastrami monstrosity that never fails to make these two hungry girls throw their hands up and surrender, even when we share.

Pretty much everything they serve at Carnegie’s will humble you the moment they set it down on your table. Their monstrous sandwiches have defeated us every single time.

Carnegie’s is at 854 7th Ave, at the corner of 55th, and often has a ridiculous queue outside. My tip is to make sure you’re going on a day where you’ve just slept in too late and arrive well after lunch time to beat the crowds.

3. Peter Luger

There’s loads of big name steakhouses in NY but this is by far one of my favourites. For a tourist, it’s a little bit of a hike out in Brooklyn, but totally worth the journey. While the walls of Carnegie’s are adorned with pictures of their famous guests, the ones at Peter Luger are covered with Zagats. Before making the journey, make sure you make a reservation. Tables for dinner need to be booked well in advance (think weeks). Even for lunch on a weekday, a reservation is highly recommended as walking in really won’t guarantee you a table. Our top recommendation would be without a doubt, the Porterhouse. They know their cuts, doneness is always perfect, and portions are very, very generous. As a general rule, order for one less than what you have in your party and that should fill you all up to the eyes. I’m a purist when it comes to steak, and believe it best served in its own juices, but they also do this tangy steak sauce that’s amazing appetising and helps especially as you get fuller towards the end of the meal. The bacon appetiser is also a must – it’s a half-inch thick piece of fat, greasy bacon grilled to salty, piggy perfection. To cut the grease, their broccoli side is really tasty (and I hate broccoli), washed down with a Brooklyn lager.

An absolute must-go if like me, you love your steak. Bring an empty stomach – you’ll need it!

Peter Luger is at 178 Broadway in Brooklyn. The nearest subway stop is Marcy Ave, accessible by the J, M and Z trains. Reservations are a must, so plan your visit in advance and give them a call at 718-387-7400. Weekday lunch is the best time to go, and remember to bring enough cash – they don’t take payment by card.

4. Halal Guys

My number one guilty pleasure when in NYC has to be street meat. You find them on just about any street corner in midtown Manhattan, and most of them are good. Staying at the Hilton for the NY Salsa Congress meant though, that we could never ignore the massive queue outside our hotel. There are numerous street meat joints around that particular street corner but only ONE is the famous one. Being Singaporean, we couldn’t resist the promise of what lay waiting at the front of that queue, and I must say, this stuff is pretty damn good! I always indulge when the line looks like its less than a dozen people.

53rd and 6th Hala Guys – definitely worth a wait and a try if the weather isn’t too cold. Beware of imitators – there are many that go by the same name and wear the same clothes. You want the one with the LONG QUEUE.

Now I will admit that most street meat around the area isn’t all that bad, and waiting outside in the cold really isn’t for everyone. BUT, I do find that because they cook in such large volumes, the food moves quick and is always hot, juicy and freshly cooked. These guys have also gotten it down to an exact science and the queue moves really quick. My favourites are lamb and chicken on rice. Watch out for the hot sauce – it’s got quite a kick! Halal Guys are at the corner of 53rd and 6th, right outside the Hilton. You can’t miss the long line.

5. Havana Central

This one is yet another discovery we made the very first visit I made to the Big Apple, where my love for Cuban food was born. Yes, it’s a little bit of a touristy place, seeing as how it is just steps away from Times Square, but DAMN they really do some of the best mojitos I have ever tasted! We always do a full jug and end up leaving very happy, with tummies full of their guava-glazed ribs and yummy black beans and yellow rice.

Ribs, rice, beans and mojitos. Top these with palm trees and live Latin music and you’ve got the makings of a great pre-dancing night!

Of course, plus points for them having a good live band that comes to play several nights a week. They actually play decent salsa, and I have been all spontaneous as one should be while on holiday, and done an impromptu pre-dinner dance or two there myself 🙂 Havana Central is at 151 West 46th, just off 7th Ave. Best for dinner, when you’re happy to get a little tipsy and roll out into Time Square in a bunch of giggles after.

You’ve seen the faves. Stay tuned for the finds – a bunch of new places that had me pleasantly surprised this trip.

Our Dolphin Tale – Visiting Winter at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium

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Greetings from Tampa everyone! Yes, this is our extra stop this trip. We try to do a roadtrip each year – have done Miami, Key West, and well, had to take a break last time around due to a hurricane, but we got back on the road and ready to explore some place new out of Hurricane Sandy’s path!

One of the places we really wanted to visit while in Tampa was the Clearwater Marine Aquarium – the home of Winter from the movie Dolphin Tale. My sister was talking about it since I was here a year ago, and I finally managed to catch the movie to see what this “dolphin with no tail” was all about.

An image from the movie poster – you can see Winter’s prosthetic tail there cos she lost hers…

The movie of course includes and adorable little boy who finds the dolphin and they end up absolutely inseparable, but is based on true events. In real life, Winter was found on a beach by a local fisherman (not a little boy with no friends) with a crab trap tangled around her tail.

The guy who found her called the team from the aquarium, who went down to rescue her. But blood from her tail had been cut off for so long that the flesh was dying and falling off in chunks and all that nasty stuff. Of course in such a scenario, the risk of infection is very real and can even be life threatening, so her rescuers decided that in order to save her, they would have to amputate, though no one knew how a dolphin would be able to get by without a tail. The end result looked strange and sad in the movie, and is almost surreal in real life.

Winter had all of her tail, and a few of her vertebrae removed. She does have a prosthetic tail that was made specially for her, but she spends most of her time without it. This is how she was in full tail-less glory when we saw her

One of the big worries was how the lack of a tail would of course, affect her movement. Dolphins get about by moving their tails in an up-down motion to propel themselves through the water. Without a tail, Winter kinda has to wiggle from side to side instead, much like the way a shark swims. But of course, dolphins and sharks aren’t made the same, and the side-to-side motion really isn’t what her spine is built for. That’s why they had to design a special prosthetic for her from scratch. If you look at her little stump, you can see why it wasn’t an easy ask – there isn’t much for the prosthetic to latch on to to stay in place, especially when in water. There was a special exhibit that documented her journey and we got to see all the prototypes that the team had to go through before they settled on the special gel sock she uses now. We touched it – it was soooo soft!

As a really kid friendly place, they did a very good job of explaining Winter’s condition, giving everyone a chance to see and understand what not having a tail means for a dolphin. Winter will always need exercises to slow spinal problems from having to swim different, and even with her tail, will never be able to jump out of the water like we know dolphins to.

Winter was a real sport, and she was really good in the presentation and shows, which she did so happily and willingly, all without her prosthetic. If anything, I never knew dolphins to vocalize their joy and delight so openly and loudly! We hear it all the time in movies, but somehow it’s almost like the voice of the dolphin has been dubbed over at strategic moments, just so we know its happy. NOT TRUE. Their squeaks and squeals of delight, as their trainers explained, come not from vocal chords (dolphins have none) but from their blowhole, and trust me – it is even louder and sharper than in the movies and its impossible for you not to hear and feel how excited the animal is – it was almost infectious!

We also had the pleasure of meeting of many of the facility’s other residents. There was Panama, a really massive dolphin that was found as a beggar dolphin – one who approaches boats for food and it was a point of contention whether or not she would ever be able to hold her own in the wild. There was Hope, a little baby found beached by the same guy in the same spot he found Winter, on the 5th anniversary of her rescue. And then there was Nicholas, who was found beached with his mum. Both of them were so badly sunburnt that he still carries the scars of his ordeal all over his back, and his mummy didn’t survive. He was an absolute sweetie, swimming by us and bringing out his toys to show around. There were also a bunch of other residents, including an otter paralysed from the waist down in a boat accident, and injured turtles without flippers or with terrible buoyancy issues from being hit by sea vessels. Apparently, other than having their limbs chopped off by propellers, they can also have the air knocked out of their lungs and into their body cavity, making their butts float up and it becomes impossible for them to swim below the surface.

The other resident of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. On the top row, Panama, the oldest resident that proves that age really is just a number when you’re young at heart and have a yoga mat handy. In the middle, a bubble-butt turtle whose behind will stay above the surface for the rest of its life, a hungry and affectionate ray, and an otter facepalm – this is the one who’s lost the use of his hind legs. Below, Nicholas, who’s kinda lonely in his own tank and so happy to see anyone who comes to visit that he brings out all his toys.

I had my concerns that the facility would be a huge tourist trap because of the movie. I’m not gonna lie. It is clear from the moment you arrive that everything revolves around the show and its star. But, it is also plain to see how the publicity has helped  the animals. Even as they are building a brand new wing, no doubt from the spike in visitors and donations following the movie’s release, the facility is small, simple, almost spartan, and looks exactly like the rundown building in the show. Looking around, it is clear that if they were to receive another candidate, they would have to turn it away. And as I watched Panama, the funny, lazy joker of a dolphin amuse herself by jumping onto this floating yoga mat and splashing around as she watched us watch her, it really hit home how these guys were just trying to create an environment where animals that could no longer belong in the wild could still have a good life in captivity. So glad we did it. Definitely something to put on the travel plans of any animal lover headed to Tampa!

If you feel like you want to do more for the animals, whether you’re in Tampa, passing through, or if you’re far away but still want to help, click here to find out on how you can support the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.