Valentine’s Day in Asia – is it a big deal?

Valentine’s Day in western countries is celebrated by everyone from young school children to senior couples who have been married for decades. It’s usually a pretty standard affair – a card, a romantic dinner, chocolates, a gift, and – for the truly dedicated – engagements or weddings.

But in Asia – where western traditions often have to be modified to fit around long-established cultural norms – Valentine’s Day takes on interesting new dimensions.

For instance, in China, there are several important rules one must observe if they want to impress someone. Do not, under any circumstances, give an umbrella or a fan. This is because the Chinese word for both sounds similar to the Chinese word for “to leave” or “to separate,” which is definitely not what Valentine’s Day is about. Similarly, avoid shoe shopping, since shoes represent someone who is ready to walk away.

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Mumbai’s Best People-Watching – Marine Drive

There is no better way to explore a city than on foot, and if that walk takes you along a sea-fronting 4.3km promenade, what could be nicer? Welcome to Mumbai's Marine Drive, a gently curving wide road that carries traffic to and from the busy Nariman Point, a hub of office blocks, government offices and shops. Marine Drive is rather picturesquely known in all the guidebooks as the Queens Necklace, and technically as Netaji Shubash Chandra Bose Road but everyone calls it, quite simply, Marine Drive.

Mansion blocks line one side of the drive, and anywhere else in the world they would be fabulously expensive pieces of real estate, not to mention eye-poppingly beautiful. Here in Mumbai they are indeed fabulously expensive but many of them are distinctly ramshackle, relics of a repressive rent control regime that means people paid virtually nothing for prime real estate, and so the landlords (naturally) didn't bother with the upkeep. Along with the mansion blocks there is the gorgeous 19th century Wilson College, sports clubs, equestrian shows, and a large aquarium that is a venerable institution, visited by generations of children on organized school trips. There are cricket pitches – always busy – a railway line, statues, hotels and restaurants, and a brand new hospital that looks more like a 7 star hotel from the outside. The variety is fascinating.

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Hotels of Note: The Strand 

The Strand is one of a set of colonial-era hotels opened by the Sarkies, a band of Armenian brothers who boasted some of the finest handlebar moustaches the world has ever known. The Sarkie Brothers’ other two hotels – E&O on Penang and Raffles Hotel in Singapore – are better known because they stayed in operation while Burma was on geopolitical lockdown. But don’t let that turn you off of the Strand. An ambitious restoration project has returned it to its former glory, and it remains a quintessential tribute to Victorian-era luxury.

Hotel History
The Strand opened on the Yangon River in 1901. At that time, it was one of the most luxurious hotels in the British colonial empire, and 92 Strand Road quickly became one of the most prestigious addresses in Asia. However, the Sarkies Brothers sold the hotel to a local restaurateur in 1925, and the fate of the Strand took a turn.

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Six delicious Burmese salads

In traditional Burmese cuisine, salads play an important role. Many of these traditional dishes are eaten as small snacks and can be easily assembled at home with readily available ingredients. By combining these ingredients – spicy, salty, and sour – Burmese salads are packed with exciting flavors and textures. There are many different types, but here are six of the most popular to whet your appetite.

Laphet Thoke (Tea Leaf Salad) - Tea leaves are seldom eaten anywhere in the world, but Burmese laphet thoke, a salad made from fermented tea leaves, is one of the iconic dishes of the country. The leaves are pickled until slightly fermented, then mixed with onions, garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, peanuts, roasted soybeans, or a number of other crunchy nuts or beans. The salad is dressed with a hint of lime juice and fish sauce to create a Burmese dish that’s both fresh and unusual, especially for western palates.

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High Tea in Asia

Leave it to the English aristocracy to turn a simple afternoon snack into a full-blown production, complete with artfully prepared petits fours (bite-sized snacks) that look so nice they actually invoke a twinge of guilt when bitten into. Just a twinge, though. I mean, honestly – you’re supposed to eat them.

Fortunately for today’s travelers, you don’t have to be a duke or a duchess to count yourself among the socialites at a high-brow afternoon tea affair. Some of the finest high tea affairs in the world are staged in five-star hotels across Asia – and particularly in former seats of the British colonial empire. To that end, let’s have a look at a few of the best places to enjoy high tea in Asia.

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New Year’s Eve Celebrations in Asia’s Big Cities

Spending New Year’s Eve in a strange city is always a bit daunting. Where do you go? What should you do? Where’s the best place to experience the holiday as the locals do? With that in mind, contacted some locals in Asia’s biggest cities and asked them where they’d go if they wanted a good show, some great fireworks, and big crowds of people celebrating their entry into 2014.

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City Insider: A weekend of exploring in Dubai

Dubai is many things to many people – actually, let’s be honest, it’s mainly shopping to most people – but while a recent mother-and-daughter weekend there definitely highlighted the commercial side of Dubai, we found a few other great reasons to appreciate to this glittering, booming, ever-changing city state.

First of all, it’s incredibly safe. So safe that when we decided to go for a walk at a rather ungodly hour we wandered through well-lit streets, saw plenty of guards watching over things, and never had a single moment of doubt or fear.

For family travelers, this is a real reason to return. Safe, clean and friendly - what a winning combination.

But for a first-timer to Dubai, what should be on the agenda? What is un-missable in this amazing city? Suppose you have just a weekend, as we did. What should absolutely be on the to-do list?

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Big City Transit: Hong Kong

Hong Kong has it all – from subways and buses to affordable taxis and surprisingly speedy ferries. As compact as Hong Kong is, even your two feet have serious currency. Getting around a major metropolis doesn’t get much easier than this.

First things first: go to a 7-Eleven or MTR service counter and purchase an Octopus card. In a city where so many different transport companies are running routes by land, rail and sea, this all-in-one smart card is a lifesaver. Practically every form of public transit accepts the Octopus, and you’ll save yourself from that awkward standoff with a driver who needs exact change when you don’t have it.

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City insider: Sydney Summer Fun  

For many westerners, Christmas and New Year's Eve are typically associated with snowfall, chestnuts roasting on open fires, mulled wine, and generally being cold. In Australia, it's the middle of summer – this year predicted to be one of the hottest – and the open fires are hopefully restricted to barbecues charring festive flavor into sausages and steaks (and chicken for the vegetarians).

While it might seem jarring to those from the northern hemisphere to spend this time of year trying to avoid sunburn rather than snowstorms, Yule time in the "sunburnt country" is the best time to visit. Sydney – a notoriously grumpy city in winter – comes to life in the warmer months, outdoorsy activities come to the fore and there's a summer schedule of activities that includes music festivals, the performing arts, markets, cricket, and more. Many events are staged around the jewel in the city's crown – Sydney Harbor – giving you more of an excuse to enjoy Australia's brilliant summer weather.

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Fortune Telling in Asia

Throughout Asia, fortune telling – or more properly, divination – is still widely practiced. Tarot cards, palm readers, and numerologists can be seen everywhere from rickety street corner card tables to public parks in the shade of a tree to large stalls in upscale hotel lobbies. Indeed, some of the best known diviners work out of temples, and some have lineups, with customers waiting hours and traveling great distances to see them.

For westerners, divination is something that has been somewhat watered down by popular culture over the past 100 years or so, and it’s generally taken less seriously – a fun thing you do with friends or at a carnival, although there are certainly those who place great importance on a good reading.

But for people from Japan to China to Thailand to India, divination is very much a part of daily life, and is often taken into consideration when making important decisions. Let’s have a quick look into some of the more popular methods that you might come across when traveling.

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