The Transformation of a Lifeless Terrace into the Gardens of Babylon

Travel in Close Quarters


In the recent lockdown months, eating at home was clearly the wiser choice for most, mainly to curb the spread of the coronavirus. But I have to admit my meal choices got a lot healthier too, and the fortnightly grocery shopping trip for cooking essentials was an opportunity to flex my rusty calves, even if just for a bit.

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Work In Progress ... the Gardens of Babylon


There was one problem with this arrangement, though. Me! My meal planning started when the greens begin to show signs of fall. That’s how I came up with a brilliant idea to try on a farmer’s hat and grow my own vegetables. This would be a start to an endless supply of handpicked, fresh capsicum, tomatoes, kale, and lettuce. Or so I thought …

Gardens of Babylon, reaching delphi
Becoming Gardens of Babylon 


Gardening was not new to me. I was 10 or 11 when I first handled a hedge shear and rake with a sun hat on. Looking back, perhaps the term “gardening” would be an exaggeration. Really, I was just trimming the overgrown fence. Was I paid? Yes, my first job was a handsomely paid one. My boss? My mom, of course. My mom’s passion is gardening, by the way. Honestly, I didn’t like gardening – it was a chore in the heat! But those few hours of roasting got me one monthly ais kacang treat (shaved ice dessert) and two Enid Blytons.

Transformation, Reaching Delphi
A potpourri of shots from Mom's patch


After a trip to Cameron Highlands and seeing acres of vegetable farms, I started imagining being a planter, stacking up plump cabbages amidst the morning fog to be sold at the local wet market for a considerable profit. My older sister would be the farm manager. I was eleven.

We moved to KL not too long after, far away from the highlands. My aunt, who lived a few miles away, had a beautiful garden of roses. I took one of her rose cuttings and planted it in ours. That cutting grew and would later produce the most beautiful and fragrant deep-pink blooms consistently for many decades. Sadly, that plant recently dried up and died. Luckily, I have pictures to remember it by. See how beautiful she is? I am in search of another beautiful rose plant again.

Rose
The lady stands elegantly


Eventually, over the years I outgrew any hope of owning a cabbage farm. However, looking at other people’s (family and friends) gardens, I could still deeply appreciate the joy flora brings to them. They have very beautiful flower and vegetable gardens. Below is a small collage I have put together of them.  

A peek view of gardens around the world




And so one day I woke up with a grand plan to transform my empty, lifeless balcony into a nurturing space ( a.k.a. a garden) just like theirs, but with a slightly different agenda – to stop eating almost rotten vegetables. 😊

Despite the travel restrictions, there was no stopping me from YouTubing into other people’s gardens for ideas. I Googled to see what I was getting myself into. [At this point I could hear Doc voice saying, “Here she goes again”]. I learned plenty of lessons and received advise from the internet and from family.  To begin, all I needed were a few pots and some good soil. I already had one massive pot in which I used to rear fish years ago. My friend, Angelina, recommended a bag of Baba’s soil that I could get easily. The idea of making fresh pasta sauce got stuck in my head while I continued with the after-office-hours research.

Pick wisely
Recognise any of these? 


Next, I needed seedling soil, fertilisers, and organic insect repellent. Online shopping, here I come!

Online Purchase
First purchase


If you, too, are considering putting your green thumb to the test, here are some beginner’s tips.

Be realistic

It’s important to grow what you enjoy watching flourish. I am hooked on the idea of vegetable planting so I can relive that eleven-year-old child’s fantasy. Will it work? I don’t know, but at least I have tried.

Speaking of being realistic, I just have a tiny balcony with a good amount of sunshine, so I must put this space to its best use.

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Cover me in sunshine


Know what grows well for your climate

I know for a fact that the apple tree inside my head won’t survive the tropical heat. I did a fair bit of research on what could be harvested successfully. The apple tree was not on the list! In the picture below, you can see what I have shortlisted.
 
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Hello, any apple tree here?

Plant what you enjoy looking at

I will mention this again. Plants bring out an immense amount of joy, peace, and happiness for a minimal cost. Select what you enjoy, and watch them grow. And, as crazy as it sounds, talk to your plants. They listen to your voice.
 
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Ready? Lets talk


Learn from fellow gardeners

I got overambitious and aimed to plant asparagus since they cost a lot of money at my local market. An exchange of texts with a fellow Redditor, however, proved this would not be the ideal thing to grow in my terrace. 

Did you know that the asparagus takes up to three years to harvest? Well, now you do.



Gardening gadgets

There are all sorts of inexpensive quick fixes available for our gardening needs at DIY stores, dollar shops, and online. I found some of these interesting and useful. I also came across few peculiar items but bought them anyway.

  • Sword, a.k.a. the bamboo support

Does this remind you of Yoda’s lightsaber? Well, it’s not something used ward off the evil forces of nature but is a bamboo stick to support drooping plants. You can also use strong twigs from trees as support if available.

 

Coffee, reaching delphi
Lightsaber...life saver


  • Hair clips, a.k.a. plant clips

These are not the ordinary hair clips my nieces use to tie up their hair, but a very cool gadget to hold a plant’s stem to its (bamboo) support. Isn’t this a clever idea? Of course, the traditional way is to tie them together with a string or wire.

Coffee, Reaching Delphi
New toys


  • Racks

Check out the two racks I got. I had so much fun assembling them. But watch your fingers while you are at it, as you can easily scrape off the skin while tightening the screws like I did.

 Two-rack shelf

This looked light, but trust me, lifting it got my poor back aching for days.

Tricycle

I regard this tricycle rack as one of the best online purchases I have ever made. I was so happy just looking at it! This purchase also came with a free gift set that included a hand trowel, transplant trowel, and cultivator hand rake.


Tricycle, racks
Best online purchase ever - Tricycle


  • Watering can

A watering can is not the only way to water your plants with, but I found watering from a can very pleasurable (as I am sure it is for my plants!), so I don’t regret this purchase at all.

  • Automated water dispenser

There are days when I’m not home to water my plants. During these days, my automated dispensers will provide them the water they need. Dear Automated Dispensers, please keep my plants watered and alive till I am back.

  • Fence for creepers

Snow peas, cucumbers, and gourds are good climbers. If you want bountiful, healthy, and a tasty harvest, be sure to provide them suitable terrain to creep up. Look what I have for my creepers.

reachingdelphi, garden, plants


  • Starter Seeds

Frankly speaking, you don’t spend money on “magic” seeds unless it is absolutely needed. When I started, I haphazardly ordered various vegetable seeds. I was surprised to find there were only a few seeds inside these large packs, and survival is not 100% guaranteed. Other experienced gardening mates later told me that for tomato planting, even a slice of a very ripe tomato will do the trick,  which is what I used at the end. My mini garden today is cultivated from both store seeds and fresh scraps.
 
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Who Am I?

  • Seedling containers

While you can get these relatively cheap at dollar shops, you could opt to save the environment by using paper-based egg trays and unused cups. I have.

reachingdelphi, recycle, reuse
reuse and recycle


  •  Planting Pots

It is essential to know the habitat required for your plants because, just like us, they will not grow as expected without the proper space. For example, tomatoes need deep pots, while snow peas will be happy in a shallow pan. So, order the right size.
 

It’s not always merrier with more

Just because plants don’t speak a human language, it doesn’t mean they should be dumped in a pot anyway we want. Respect the plants. Try not to overcrowd them into one pot. Just get another container if needed.

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Content


What I called a chore in the heat at eleven is today a pleasure and catharsis. Every morning I look out eagerly to see how many inches my crops have grown through the night. Some mornings, especially on weekends, I just sit on the floor next to my plants with my coffee. Some days I take a couple of photos, and an exchange of good morning texts with close ones starts. I don’t know if this gardening experience is a fad or something long term, but I am enjoying every moment of it right now. Being in the company of plants is therapeutic.

Therapeutic...time well spent


Special shoutout to all my fellow gardeners for all the valuable advice and for allowing me to share photos of your beautiful flora with the rest. Thank you!


For me, travel is about searching within myself, learning something new, exploring new cultures, and meeting people who will stay on in my mind. Thanks to the advances in technology, I can still do that from my living room (and balcony). I look at gardening as a sign of many more travels to come. Counting stars, Reaching Delphi … counting the days to my harvest and to more learning opportunities. Reaching Delphi is about travelling within your means.


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Thank you for visiting my garden 😃





Watch Out and Check-in and Take Only Yours.

When a stranger offers you something… from the Watchout Travel Series


Imagine you are waiting in the queue to check in for your bus ride or flight, but the line is long and slow-moving. What do you do?

Me? I like to chat with the stranger next to me.

Fortunately for me, strangers respond to me about 80% of the time. Sometimes those conversations blossom into a continuing friendship, but most strangers simply become a pleasant companion during the hour-long wait.

Other conversations are not as rosy, though. Let me tell you why. I travel light because I want to be kind to my spine. Also, I don’t want to carry my entire house with me on a getaway. But before you read further, allow me to clarify that this article is not about how you should pack. I am sure you are way ahead of me when it comes to that. 😉

As a wannabe light traveller, here are few statements thrown at me when people notice I travel with just a few light items.

"Oh, ma'am, that's all you have? Did you know you can carry 20 kilos of items? This is a total waste, you know. Can you check-in these, too, for us at least?"

 "I have two carry-ons. You have none. Can you take one of mine, just until the gate?”

 "Can you do me an urgent favour and check in with us as part of my travel group? We can combine our weight distribution.”

 "Can I see your ticket? What is your seat number? Can I leave my carry-ons at your overhead compartment?"

 

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Heck no. No, no, and NO! Carrying unknown possessions is a crime. 

Earlier, I mentioned I liked to travel light. Well, that's partially right. The truth is, I rarely shop on vacation trips, so my bags are relatively light, but I do enjoy picking up a couple of unique mementoes for close loved ones. Duty-free shops, you’ll see me again!
 
I recall browsing at a handicraft outlet in a South Asian airport once. As always, I mentally calculated how much I could spend that day. I had enough local currency to purchase a couple of small wood or marble handicrafts. A few other travellers in the store, like me, desperately searched for last-minute goodies to pick up. I could hear discussions among other customers in the background.

"Do you like any of those?” I hear, my thoughts interrupted. I dislike store operators who tailgate customers. I am sure you don't like that either. When I come across such rude store workers, I just stare at them until they get the message and walk away. On this occasion, I looked up, a little irritated at the voice that took my attention away from the bangles. To my surprise, the bloke wasn't a store worker but another traveller. 

"I haven't decided," I told him. We talked for a bit. He told me that he would be stopping over in several other cities, including my home city, Kuala Lumpur. As a kind fellow traveller and to display the Malaysian hospitality, I was friendly but cautious. I learnt that his name was Avyaan (real name is changed for this post), that he lived in Mauritius, and that he was on the same flight as me.

"What do you think of these?" Avyaan, a middle-aged man, pointed at several wooden sculptures of half-clothed women. "I want to get one of these for my wife.”

Offensive, I thought and definitely not something I would purchase for anyone or ask a stranger for opinion on. I just shrugged in response.

"I have to finish off these." Avyaan showed me a stack of foreign currency that was way more than what I would walk around within my pockets. He had a lot of money, and I was pretty sure he wouldn't be travelling by coach with that much in hand. 

 "I hope she likes the gift," I replied indifferently.


reachingdelphi, shopping, coffee



After picking up and paying for a couple of small souvenirs myself, I was relieved to leave the store and Avyaan behind.

I found a comfortable seat next to the window at the boarding gate, sipped my coffee, and was happy to get on with The Orient Express, which was getting more exciting by the page. However, I was still feeling queasy about the person I had just exchanged some details with. But I wasn't in any position to be a Hercule Poirot, so I let the thoughts pass.


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So far, this sounds harmless, right? But hold on, it gets more interesting. As I was boarding the flight, someone taps my shoulder.

"I was hoping to see you," Avyaan said. "Here, for you." He handed me a foot-sized, paper-wrapped object.

"Hey, dude. I don't want this." I declined the gift, but he walked away.

The aircraft's doors closed, and soon we took off. I didn't see Avyaan for the rest of the trip, but I was shaken, and I kept imagining the worst. What if there were drugs inside or smuggled diamonds? I didn't have the courage to open the parcel.

Carrying unknown items, drugs, or any smuggled items for anyone is a serious offence, and the traveller doing so can be jailed. Though I was much younger when this incident happened, I was well aware of these criminal offences. Usually, young girls travelling alone become prey of organised syndicates looking to transfer illegal items. In recent years, I’ve read of horrifying incidents where several criminal organizations offered luxurious travel opportunities to new recruits who very trustingly carried unknown things on their behalf and were detained by customs during inspection.

When I got off the flight, I saw Avyaan, thanked him for the gift, but told him firmly that I wouldn't accept the gift and chucked it back to him. He was disappointed and insisted he needed to talk to me the next day.

In all fairness, this passenger who offered me the gift could have been genuine, but I did the right thing. I chose to decline.
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What I Learnt
  • Do not accept any gifts from strangers or offer to travel with anything you have not inspected yourself. This applies to both checked and carry-on items.
  • Your first instinct during contact should indicate when something is fishy. Be prepared to walk away, ask for help, or report suspicious behaviour.
  • Do not compromise your family's safety by giving away any personal contact information or social media links containing private information to strangers. You never know when you might be giving access to a stalker.
  • You have the right to refuse to carry something on behalf of someone else. So don't feel guilty for exercising this right.
  • Opt for online check-in whenever possible. It’s quick, safe and gives you no reason to check-in some random strangers items.


Note: The photographs posted in this post are not from this trip.

Footnote:
Regardless of whether you are a business traveller or vacationer, a one-time or frequent traveller – if you travel, you are exposed to risks. It’s important to understand that some of us are easier targets than others.

This series is dedicated to Doc, SV, who constantly reminded me to 'Watch Out!. Doc was a sensible traveller, while I, quite the opposite. Through Watch Out! Travel Mishaps from Reaching Delphi Travellers Alert series, I will share some of our travel misadventures with you. My aim is to create an awareness of such incidents and some useful suggestions to reduce the occurrence of unpleasant events. 

Follow Coffee Trail – Counting Stars, Reaching Delphi for travel updates and tips.