Category Archives: Travel

Glorious Spring

Yesterday marked my 2nd blogsary, and I am sorely reminded that I have not posted anything the past 6 weeks. It’s not an excuse, but my husband and I were on holiday in Japan last month, and it takes me a while to get back to the swing of things.  I didn’t have problems getting back to soaping, but I haven’t picked up my camera since arriving.  I did take a lot of photos in Japan, so that is what I will be sharing today.

March to June are hot summer months here in the Philippines, so spending early spring in Japan was a cool and refreshing welcome.  We were lucky enough to catch the famed cherry blossoms, even though it was already towards the tail end of its short season. The blossoms were already falling from the trees – appearing like snow on the ground – but still a splendid sight to behold.

Sakura

Cherry blossoms or sakura in Japanese.

I met Maya last October and I was so happy we were able to meet again and spend a whole day together!  As cherry blossom viewing can be a very crowded affair,  Maya took me somewhere quiet: the Aoyama Cemetery.  Maya explained that the Japanese don’t view death as something terribly morbid or sad.   The cemetery was beautiful and serene, and felt more like a park than anything else.

Sakura Aoyama

Cherry blossoms in Aoyama Cemetery.

After Aoyama, Maya took me to the Imperial Palace grounds. In stark contrast, it was teeming with people.  I even bumped into my business partner and his family!  How random is that? Maya and I didn’t have photos the first time we met, but this time, we made sure to capture the moment.

Japan 1

Maya 2

I love this photo of Maya with her hair blown by the wind.

Everywhere I look, there is always something that catches my eye. These camellias are just stunning:

Camellia

And it’s not just the flowers.  Even tree trunks have awesome camo patterns!

Camo

From Tokyo, we took the train to go to Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan. One of the highlights of our trip was our relaxing and picturesque walk along the 2-km cherry blossom-lined Philosopher’s Path.

Philospher's Path 1

Philospher’s Path

I don’t know the names of these flowers, but I found them along our walk. Aren’t they so cute and beautiful?

Flowers

On one end of the Philospher’s Path is the Silver Pavilion or Ginkakuji Temple.  Because of a friend who’s a moss lover, I couldn’t help but notice and be in awe of the lush moss that covered a significant part of the temple grounds. My friend was so jealous when I showed him the photos.

Kyoto

Silver Pavilion or Ginkakuji Temple

Ahh, spring. What a lovely lovely time of the year.  It’s nature in all its shining glory. 🙂

 


 

 




Meeting Ecoviolet

One of the best things about blogging is getting to meet people one would normally not have the chance to meet in this life.  Last October, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Maya of Infusions in Tokyo (cross fingers, we may meet again this April!)  And just last Sunday, I met Janet of Ecoviolet Soap and her husband in Manila.

Janet already wrote me months ago about her plans for a first-time visit to the Philippines and Thailand – the birthplaces of her mother and father, respectively. When she had finally firmed up her schedule, I wasn’t sure if I could fly to Manila on those dates. But our meeting was meant to be;  just a few days beforehand, my husband said we were going to Manila to see an art fair and to visit his parents.  I was so excited when I realised the dates coincided with Janet’s visit!  Despite her tight schedule, we managed to meet, albeit it was just for two short hours – so not enough, as you can imagine!  Janet is a brilliant chemical engineer who is currently taking up her master’s in statistics.  With her background, making soap is almost second nature to her. I love learning about the scientific part of soap making, and talking with Janet felt like I was meeting Kevin M. Dunn himself!

We were so caught up chatting, we almost forgot to have our picture taken.  But we were able to have this shot at the hotel lobby, just before saying good-bye. Parting ways took a while since there was just so much to talk about! Hopefully we will have more time next time around. 🙂

Ecoviolet

Janet gifted me with an Orange Patchouli soap. Can I just say how incredible it smells?  I made a Blood Orange & Patchouli soap sometime ago, but I don’t remember it smelling as deep and aromatic as Janet’s.  Guess what I’m using tonight?  😉

Ecoviolet soap

I am so glad we met, Janet.  I hope you are having a great time in Bangkok. Safe travels! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Snap Shots: Jingdezhen

This is a continuation, in photos, of the post I wrote about my trip to Jingdezhen, China.

Village Life in Gaoling

Plum blossom

Plum blossom

Gaoling Village: A river runs through it.

A river runs through the village.

China- village life 2

Drying cabbage.

China - village life 3

Drying fish.

China - Village life 4

Drying shoes.

Portraits

China - Portrait Old Man

Every line has a story.

China - Portrait Old Woman

A charm that never fades.

China - portrait young and old

Through the generations.

Shards Market

China - Market, shards

Porcelain shards

China - Market, bowls

Bowls: antique or repro?

China - Market, jars

Porcelain pots

China - Market, jugs

Miniature jugs and vessels

China - market, mao

Chairman Mao memorabilia

 

 

The Kaolin Connection

Upon my friend’s invitation, I joined a field trip organised by the Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong, to Jingdezhen, China, last February 20-24.  I had never heard of this city before, but apparently, it is considered the porcelain capital of China, with a rich history in ceramics production dating back at least 1700 years ago.

It’s undeniably a ceramic city, as you will see…

China - ceramic window

Ceramic window border

Wall of antique ceramic shards

Wall of ceramic shards

Ceramic bridge

Ceramic bridge

Ceramic trash bins (read the English text)

Ceramic trash bins (read the English text)

Great wall of ceramic

Great wall of ceramics

More ceramics

What did I tell you? Ceramics, ceramics, everywhere!

I have a fondness for ceramics, but my knowledge is paltry at best. I felt privileged to have the opportunity to be in the company of people with a keen appreciation and in-depth knowledge of oriental ceramics.  For our guide, we had a brilliant young archaeologist and scholar who took us to the museums, markets, pottery studios,  historical sites, and even her apartment – where she keeps a good collection of porcelain shards from the different dynasties.  I was quite the ignorant at the start of the trip.  I still am, but a wee bit less, and a lot more appreciative of the history of porcelain.

Tea and Antique Porcelain Shards at Prof. May Huang's house

Afternoon tea while studying antique porcelain shards.

Since I started making soap, I have always made it a point to find something soapy whenever I travel. I didn’t find handmade soap, nor did I discover new ingredients like I did during my trip to Taiwan, but I was thrilled to learn that kaolin clay, a common additive in soap making, had its origin in Jingdezhen!  It is more trivia than anything, but finding some kind of soap connection got me excited.

Kaolin: History and Importance

  • Towards the end of the South Song Dynasty (1127 -1279), top-layered china stones for ceramic production were getting exhausted. The search for alternative material led to the discovery of kaolin clay, named after the place where it was first mined – in Gaoling,  45 km northeast of Jingdezhen City.
  • Ceramics production may have started as early as the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), but it was not until the discovery of kaolin clay, that kilns were able to fire ceramic bodies at higher temperatures of around 1300˚C, without breaking.
  • Because of the strength and durability it lends to porcelain, kaolin clay is called the “bone”, while the other component, china stone (feldspar), is considered the “muscle.”
  • Kaolin clay helps produce whiter and finer quality porcelain.
  • Chinese porcelain reached its epoch with the discovery of kaolin clay.
  • The famed blue and white wares from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) had to be fired at 1300˚C for the underglaze cobalt paint to turn into its characteristic brilliant blue colour.  Without kaolin clay, ceramic made purely with china stone would have crumbled at such a high temperature.
  • In 1712, Francois Xavier d’Entrecolles, a Jesuit priest, brought back to France the porcelain-making techniques of the Chinese. In 1771, the French found kaolin near the town of Limoges, which, to this day, is famed for its porcelain.
  • In 1755, kaolin deposits were found in Cornwall.  This spurred the ceramics industry of England.
  • Nowadays, kaolin is used in almost all industries: paper, rubber, plastic, paint, chemical, medicine, textile, petroleum, building materials, semiconductor, cosmetics, etc.
Origins of Kaolin Clay: Gaoling Hill

Origins of Kaolin Clay: Gaoling Hill

Semi-processed koalin clods. They were transported from Goaling Hill to the Yaoli river, to be delivered to the imperial kilns.

Semi-processed koalin clods.

Underglaze painting

Underglaze painting

Kaolin (White): Uses in Soap and Skin-Care

  • Kaolin is said to help retain the scent of fragrance and essential oils in soap.  I don’t know for sure how effective it is, but in my Yogurt and Oats soap, the scent is holding quite well.
  • Even though kaolin makes porcelain whiter, it does not work the same way in soaps.  I read that it makes the colour of soap lighter, but it does not make it whiter.  (However, Maya of Infusions blog, just posted her latest creation using kaolin to whiten soap.  Does anyone else have experience using kaolin as a whitening agent?)
  • It can be used in shaving soaps for a silky slip.
  • It is a good skin detoxifier and cleanser, and is suitable for all skin types. It is considered one of the mildest clays and will not dry out the skin.
  • It can be used in mineral make-up, body powder, and natural deodorant.
  • Mixed with water,milk, yogurt, aloe vera, cucumber juice, mashed avocado, or your favourite  fruit/vegetable, it can be made into a face or body mask.

What is your experience with kaolin clay? Do you have other uses for it?

I tried to look for kaolin clay so I could say I have kaolin from the original source. But the truth is, after centuries of mining, the kaolin clay in Gaoling – considered to be the finest -has been depleted.  In its stead are mountains of discarded coarse kaolin – the leftover stuff after the clay has been washed and sifted.  Now covered with vegetation, the mountains were once gleaming white.  Kaolin is still mined elsewhere in China. I wanted to buy anyhow, but it’s sold by wholesale only – by tons (!), according to May, our wonderful archaeologist guide. The United States, particularly the state of Georgia, is currently the largest kaolin producer in the world.

I had no kaolin, but I did find something else, though:

Tea strainers and what I think is something for the hair

Tea strainers and what I think is something for the hair

I bought the above items from a street vendor.  I think the design of the bamboo tea strainers would be good for dusting mica on soap, and the wooden stick (does anyone know what it is for?) would be worth a try in making swirls.

When I was in City Super in Hong Kong, I couldn’t resist this Hello Kitty silicone mold, which, as you guessed, won’t be for muffins:

Hello Kitty soap mold

Hello Kitty silicone mold

So, I did come home with a few things for my soapy obsession.  If one looks hard enough, one will always find.  😺

Update: Maya just made an excellent follow-up post on using white kaolin in soap and its effects. Please head over to Infusions to read about it in detail.

Tripping Out in Old Taipei

Last April, my husband and I took advantage of a buy one, take one airfare promo, and booked it around October 13, our wedding anniversary.  We wanted somewhere near, so we picked the nearest capital city, Taipei, which is just 2 hours away from Manila.  Hubby has never been to Taiwan and the last time I was there was in the early 1990s.

On our second day there, as I was researching on how to go to the fabric market, I read about Dihua Street, the oldest street in Taipei, and an important commercial hub for Taiwanese products such as medicinal herbs, teas, specialty food, textiles, etc.  This really piqued my interest, plus the fabric market was in the same area.

Oh boy! I really tripped out when I saw all the goods laid out in abundance inside the shops with more displays spilling out onto the building’s covered walkway. All I could think of were “soapabilities”.  Poor hubby, there really was nothing there of interest to him, but he patiently waited.

Here are snapshots of Dihua Street and its shops:

Dihua Street

Dihua Street

Sunday afternoon shopping in Dihua.

Sunday afternoon shopping in Dihua.

Rose Tea

Dried rosebuds for tea

Up-close, simply gorgeous.

Up-close, simply gorgeous.

Dried shiitake mushrooms

Dried shiitake mushrooms

Sadly, shark's fin is still widely sold in Taiwan.

Sadly, shark’s fin is still widely sold in Taiwan.

Ta-dah…….my Dihua haul:

image

L to R: sweet osmanthus, calendula, mixed floral tea

image

Lavender and chamomile

image

L to R: powdered black sesame, black bean (but it’s not black), Job’s Tears

Still not satisfied, I had to go back again. This time I came a bit more prepared and researched on the items that I saw but were unfamiliar to me, and looked up the Chinese names of things I wanted to get, like stinging nettle, which I found! I still have to show my haul to my mom to make sure I have what I think I got. She can read and write fluent Chinese, but regrettably I don’t.

Clockwise from top left: mung bean powder, mugwort, roselle, stinging nettle, rose, brown rice powder

Clockwise from top left: mung bean powder, mugwort, roselle, stinging nettle, rose, brown rice powder

In popular stores in the city, I saw a lot of imported French soaps, including the large cube-shaped Marseille soaps that I had previously seen in photos only. Of the local handmade soaps, Monga Soap was the one that stood out and what I kept on seeing. From their brochure, these are some of the medicinal ingredients they use in their soaps: Asian puccoon, roots of Chinese Angelica, leguminosae, ginkgo leaves, pearl powder, polygonum multiflorum, absinthium, pogostemon cablin benth, etc. I still have to research on these things as I am not familiar with most of them.

image

Monga: all-natural Taiwanese handmade soap

There would be something amiss if I didn’t make any mention of the fantastic eats in Taiwan. It is truly a foodie’s paradise where you can find practically anything and everything. We stuck to Asian cuisines, mostly Taiwanese, except for European desserts which are very popular there. When traveling, we always try to do as the Romans do. 🙂 Here are a few of the dishes I was able to take photos of:

Din Tai Fung's famous xiao long bao (steamed pork dumplings with "soup" inside)

Din Tai Fung’s famous xiao long bao (steamed pork dumplings with “soup” inside)

Din Tai Fung's wonton soup

Din Tai Fung’s wonton soup

Du Hsiao Yueh's scallops with silken tofu

Du Hsiao Yueh’s scallops with silken tofu

Shaved mango ice with fresh mangoes, mango ice cream and milk pudding from IceSquare Snowflakes

Shaved mango ice with fresh mangoes, mango ice cream and milk pudding from IceSquare Snowflakes

Vanilla panna cotta and green tea millefeuille

Vanilla panna cotta and green tea mille-feuille from Pozzo Bakery

Travel Snap Shots: Honolulu & San Francisco

I was not feeling well the past two days.  I rarely have it, but once in a while, I suffer from hyperacidity.  Those who’ve experienced it know how draining and uncomfortable it can be.  The upper part of my abdomen stung and I could not hold down my food.  I had a mild fever and just felt really tired, but the worst part was not being able to stand the smell of the soaps I made last weekend. It made me realize that when we’re sick, we cannot enjoy the things we normally take pleasure in.  I feel a bit better today, and I also feel grateful for my health that I sometimes just take for granted.

It has been a week and a half since I came back from my trip, but have been lazy about blogging.  I have already been soaping though because I have orders from my in-laws and from my own family for their Christmas give-aways.  Before going back to blogging about soap, I thought I’d share snap shots of my recent trip.

Honolulu was an all-expense paid trip care of the state of Hawaii, or rather, their sponsors.  A friend of mine, Chef Marco Anzani, was invited to take part in the annual Hawaii Food and Wine Festival – a week long food bonanza featuring Hawaii’s bounty prepared by dozens of chefs from different parts of the world.  Chef Marco invited me and another friend, chef/restaurateur Raki Urbina, to be part of his team.  You can imagine no the arm-twisting for this opportunity? 🙂

Waikiki Beach, just a few minutes walk from our hotel, The Modern Honolulu

Waikiki Beach, just a few minutes walk from our hotel, The Modern Honolulu

Having a light moment in the kitchen of The Modern Honolulu with students from the Kapi'olani Community College. That's me on the far left. Marco Anzani is the really tall Italian.

Having a light moment in the kitchen of The Modern Honolulu with students from the Kapi’olani Community College. That’s me on the far left. The really tall Italian is Marco Anzani.

Our lobster roulade with asparagus, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and goat cheese, ready to be plated.

Our lobster roulade with asparagus, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and goat cheese, ready to be plated.

Fresh Hawaiian fish.

Fresh Hawaiian fish.

Posing with more fish. The trio from Cebu, Philippines (L-R): Marco Anzani, Me, Raki Urbina

Posing with more fish. The trio from Cebu, Philippines   (L-R): Marco Anzani, Me, Raki Urbina

Star struck me with Hubert Keller, Ming Tsai and Allan Wong.

Star struck me with Hubert Keller, Ming Tsai and Allan Wong.

It is approximately a 10 hour flight from Manila to Honolulu, so I thought, why not just add 5 more hours to go to San Francisco to visit my sister?

What's San Francisco without its iconic cable car?

San Francisco’s iconic cable car.

Soaps sold at the Ferry Building. I made sure to take photos of soap!

Soaps sold at the Ferry Building. I made sure to take photos of soap!

Thick, fluffy pancakes with fresh peaches from the Alexis Baking Company in Napa.

Thick, fluffy pancakes with fresh peaches from the Alexis Baking Company in Napa.

Heirloom tomatoes at the Napa farmer's market.

Heirloom tomatoes at the Napa farmer’s market.

Carmel beach on a balmy day.

Carmel beach on a balmy day.

So cute.

So cute.

The 250-year old Lone Cypress Tree at Pebble Beach.

The 250-year old Lone Cypress Tree at Pebble Beach.