My worst travel nightmare is to get on a plane, travel 35000km across the world and find the exact same streets, malls and restaurants. As global brands like GAP, Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret and Uniqlo start popping up at every corner of Singapore’s malls, it’s not hard to believe that this will eventually be what happens if we don’t question what we want in the world. Even more worrisome is the fact that local cuisine is slowly dying out, recipes lost, as we indulge more in avocado toast and flat whites in the brand new cafes of gentrified neighbourhoods.
What would be the point of travelling then if we all crave and have the same experiences? Surely it must be more than just to upload an Instagram story and accumulate likes?
Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten a crucial aspect of travel – rehabilitation. If we were to look inward before we embark on any trip and ask ourselves, “Why are we visiting this country?” I think we would have less crowded Eiffel Towers, less souvenirs targeted at tourists selling the same keychain or I heart T-shirts. It’s become a bucket list, a hope for a new life even though you haven’t done anything different and nothing’s really changed.
Why do we visit museums that we don’t enjoy (there are those we do end up enjoying, but was it the biggest motivating factor for you to visit)? Visit cafes that look exactly like the ones at home? Or go up another Sky Tower to get a 360 view of the city? Speaking from personal experience, we do it because it’s recommended to do so, it’s the easy thing to do – have a list and start ticking off it.
There are definitely places where we should be awed by. Mountains so high and majestic, where the moon and stars shine so bright you can’t help but recognise that you are inconsequential in the scheme of things, museums that have educated and inspired me of humanity’s incredible innovation and cruelty. Yet, we can go beyond superficial experiences.
My most precious memories from my travels are of the people I’ve met. My host parents in Germany who cooked me meatballs and secretly stuffed 100 euros in my Pringles in case I would be hungry as I embarked on my backpacking across Europe. The family from Inner Mongolia who told me of their worries of losing their culture and language as we sat and talked perched next to a warm campfire. A hot chocolate cafe owner in Cusco from France who was previously an architect but decided to stay in Peru because she liked it so much. The talks I attended in the startup co-working spaces while I was in Argentina and Hungary.
These memories have impacted my own world view so more than any sculpture, mountain or museum ever could. They have warmed my heart and broken it and reminded me of creativity at every corner of our little blue planet. I don’t know how significant they will be in my work, but I will definitely be more deliberate in seeking out these tribes of people and deeper experiences in the future.
Highly recommend for anyone “brain travelling” today, Alain de Botton’s Art of Travel.
Rating: 10 / 10 – the best nonfiction book I’ve read in a while.
I started this book last evening and it left me in tears. Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi writes about coming to terms with death and being diagnosed with lung cancer. His journey swings to and from extreme ends of a pendulum – from doctor to patient, from English major to neurosurgeon, from living a life so full of promise and potential to never knowing how much more time you have left to finish the work you were supposed to do or how many more nights you have to cuddle with your wife and newborn daughter.
As a neurosurgeon, he knows better than to question, “Why me?”. In the 0.0012% chance of it happening to someone in their 30s and a non-smoker, he knew he was still part of the group of “Why not me?”. He faced death straight on, making plans for his wife and daughter’s future, trying to go back to surgery and helping as many patients as he could, writing this book as his final call out to mother earth, as if to shout back into this painful existence as if to say, use whatever you have left of me to make life a little more bearable for everyone else.
What makes life worth living? Happiness or suffering?
Paul Kalanithi was a deep thinker who questioned the meaning of life and morality rigorously.
He demonstrates the high stakes of being a neurosurgeon, where millimetres of error could mean life or death, or forever change in a young boy’s personality from angel to monster. Is it better to live through a defibrillator, never being able to think or communicate the same way as your previous self, or to have nature take it’s course and letting your loved ones find closure? Should we feel anger at those who neglect those who become incognisant of the past and their loved ones? Would we do the same if we were in the same situation? He comes to his own conclusions over the course of the book, sometimes different from what they were in the beginning, and while reading you can empathise why.
Perhaps the part of the book where the most tears rolled down my cheeks was reading about his courage in not avoiding suffering. When he and Lucy (his wife) were deciding whether to have a child or not, something they had planned to do but was increasingly precarious to do given the consequences of his cancer.
Lucy asks, “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?” To which he replies, “Wouldn’t it be great if it did?”
He accurately describes the suffering that comes with great joy. When you experience love for someone so much that it makes it that much harder to say goodbye. Lucy and Paul didn’t avoid the suffering that comes with love and happiness – and such is our struggle with life in general. What is the point of existence if it is all meaningless? Why try to put yourself out there when you will probably be forgotten in a thousand years? Why try to save ourselves when death comes to all of us? The answer is that you don’t avoid it, you come to terms with it, you cry, you hug your family, you pray, hope the best for it and count yourself lucky that you could even feel such joy. Such is the complexity and range of human experience.
It’s been almost 2 months since we tied the knot. To be honest, nothing much has really “changed” physically or financially. There is however, a sense of “shit, we’re in this together for real now forever, cause we said our vows in front of all our friends and family” and surprisingly, a closeness and affinity that I feel with Reuben now that he’s my official emergency contact / family.
I know how incredibly lucky I am to have found somebody I can share my dreams and life with for the rest of my life. It won’t be roses forever, but I’m cherishing every moment of our honeymoon period together.
In meantime, here’s a photo from our honeymoon in Croatia!
In a world that increasingly preaches for you to travel, to spend on experiences, quit your job, leave your 9-5 hell, I thought I could share a little perspective on what the actual experience is like.
Travelling does not make your problems go away
The perks of travelling, feeling awed by mother nature.
There are two ideas that can make you want to leave to travel for long term.
The first idea is that travelling makes everything better, simpler, by taking off to another country. You might imagine that you’d “find yourself”, but in reality you are escaping your life at home. The thought of going home scares you, when you can’t see a long term solution to a major life problem because of the “the pressures of conforming to society” and having to go back to your old ways.
These problems continue to haunt you and stick to the back of your mind like an annoying splinter. And you can’t help but feel anxious even when presented with the most beautiful views the world has to offer. I’m sorry to tell you this, but what you will find If you were unhappy with your life before you left is that you will continue to be unhappy if you don’t change your habits or start making things while you travel or after you’re home. Do what you need to before you leave so you can enjoy the journey.
The second idea is that you travel for the sake of travel, for the love of the adventure, experience, the rehabilitation of the mind and soul, regardless of the good and bad of it all (because there will be bad days). You find ways and means to sustain your lifestyle because your love exploring and do whatever it takes by starting businesses, teaching others how you can do it and sharing whatever you have learnt on-the-road with the community. You travel to create yourself, not to find yourself. You seek out like-minded individuals and tribes, so that you can connect to a wider network, pick on other people’s brains and build interesting projects wherever you go. Travel becomes more fulfilling this way because you are working on something bigger than yourself and focusing on your own needs.
I think most of us swing between the first and second idea, but it’s important to keep in mind that travel doesn’t make you problems go away.
The world is a beautiful, indifferent place
When we went star-gazing in Chile and saw the milky way with our bare-naked eyes, I realised something. Our planet is amazing, and if we taught ourselves to give more time to admire the stars at night, I think we could really start to appreciate how minute we are in the scheme of things. In everyday life we try to make ourselves seem important, wanted, needed, busy individuals, but really – the world gets on perfectly well without us. Everyone is dispensable, and that is both a good and bad thing.
Indifferent, because I also saw how poverty could rob people of their chances. So many times on my trip I kept thinking to myself, “I’m so fucking lucky to be able to do this.” There are no excuses to not pursue your dreams if you live in that percentage of the world who can afford to travel.
You don’t own anything. Nature owns everything.
We hoard things for status, for security, but in truth, mother nature owns everything. Nothing really belongs to us. In fact we belong her. In Bolivia, there is a respect for nature, and the indigenous Quechua people call her Pacha Mama . We stamp a flag on it and claim it for ours, when it’s never for us to keep. Everything is transient and we are at her mercy. The perks of travelling is that it will teach you this. That you don’t need much to survive on. That it’s important to connect with immaterial things.
There is a time for everything and each experience is different.
Travelling is like reading a book. At different stages of your life you experience it differently. At different times you seek for different outlets. For pleasure, for solace, for creativity. But I think what most people want is to feel connected with something. In our 9-5 life, we act like robots, drones, that follow the beck and call of the rat race. So disconnected. That urge to connect as a human being, be it to strangers or nature, makes us feel alive again. The best part is that a place changes according to your needs. There are different ways to experience it even if you are at the same place.
If you can’t travel, read.
Strangely, with the newfound time I seemed to have and not having to check emails 24/7, I started reading more books than I had any other year before. Fiction, Non-fiction, Non-fiction books about writing fiction books. Everything. It was beautiful and it gave me a rush that I experience whenever I saw a new sight or had a new realization while travelling. So if you can’t afford to travel. Reading does it too.
Most people like February. It’s a short month and in Singapore, it’s Chinese New Year. But in particular, I think it serves as a sad reminder that January has come and gone. And the realisation that the resolutions that you made might not come to pass.
I’ve started working on my 5000 word fiction story. It’s based on a story I heard today from an old secondary school friend. It’s inspired by a true crime based in Singapore. I want to share it with you soon.
In meantime, here’s the crazy thing I did in January. Riding G-Max with my dear friend, Valerie.
Last year on this day, we were on a train back to Taipei from Hsinchu, in Taiwan. Lugging a backpack with all the belongings I’d needed, getting ready to finally come back home to Singapore and start my next adventure.
It’s been a tough year emotionally. Mainly because I didn’t keep promises I made to myself. There have been many great opportunities and transitions in 2015, and if I had to give a theme to my life this year, it’d be “The Year I Settled Back In Singapore. For Good.”
It’s strange because I thought that long-term travelling doesn’t really change you. But it did, it made me see that no matter where I was I could be doing what I’d actually wanted to do in Singapore, with abundant opportunity and no stress of having to cover for rent. It’s where my family, my friends, Reuben is. There is no urge for me to leave right now. It’s mostly about analysis-paralysis, my fear of failure and procrastination.
January was the month where the magic of our Round-The-World Trip would end. We were so exhausted from travelling and were glad to be able to head home. It was bitter-sweet writing this epic recap of our trip on Medium, looking back on a year of travel around the world. Looking back, I wish I took more time to write about our journey instead of the haphazard manner it was done on Let’s Go Loco, which has since been abandoned.
Despite telling myself that I wouldn’t go on another airplane so soon, I would find myself in Thailand, Philippines, Myanmar, China, Indonesia and Malaysia. The most pleasant of all the trips was in Boracay, Philippines where we celebrated Reuben’s birthday, and in Yangon, where old friends, Celeste, Yiwern and I re-united.
Went back to work part-time at JFDI.Asia. It’s THE accelerator program in Singapore and most possibly the only legit one in South East Asia. I was put to manage the content marketing and PR team and met some lovely people there. It made me see even clearer the inner workings of startups and how the odds are stacked against you even when you get some of the best help in Singapore. Hugh was also my lovely manager who allowed me to continue with our part-time arrangement as I started on Singapore Geek Girls stuff again.
SG Geek Girls talks were resumed and we started with Denisa Kera, an ex-professor of mine who gave a fascinating talk about the maker-community and culture in Asia. She’s been a source of inspiration for me, breaking the stereotype that arts and science are separate entities, when in fact, it’s very much inter-disciplinary.
In March, I got an invite to attend an event called Stream Asia. It’s an unconference for the advertising industry in Asia and is organized by WPP. Strange that no matter how I tried to distance myself from the advertising world, I would come back to it.
Special thanks to Gwen, who made this possible. I had a great time catching up with one of the most important mentors in my life. 🙂
A really busy month.
I finalized on my Xiaomi contract in early April and knew I had to make more effort to organize Geek Girls events while I could. I was really thankful when Anna and the guys at 12 Geeks spoke and co-organized the 2 events respectively.
Anna is a fantastic speaker. Her talk on the myths about the open source community really made me feel hopeful that it would be the perfect entry point for females to find more kindred spirits in the tech industry. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of engineers that attended the session as well! Many of whom had never gone to other tech meetups.
The second session was mostly impromptu. I asked the 12 Geeks men, Fazli and Luther, whether they’d be interested to host an arduino workshop and was really glad to tinker with the rest of the ladies around. One of them was working on a startup idea that would help you automagically feed your pets. An arduino was part of the prototyping phase.
Miraculously, Hugh still sent me to Cebu to meet with the lovely teammates I had there. I had a good time getting to know Crystal, from our content marketing team better. She’s a fantastic writer and inspired me to write for myself again. Here she is below (left) with our other intern, Cui (right).
Myanmar in May. It felt like forever since I saw Yiwern and Celeste together. We used to take a yearly trip, so it felt good to be able to reunite with them in Yangon.
There are some truly magnificent temples across Myanmar, possibly the most elaborate in the world. You can tell Myanmar’s a sleeping dragon, but a lot’s to come in the next 20 years. I’m glad I saw it before the rest of the world did.
And just like that, I started my full-time job in Xiaomi and within the next week, I flew to Beijing to start my 3 month stint learning from the Mi Community team and employee #9, Da Li, who pain-stakingly created the vibrant community that Xiaomi has in China. Perhaps I’ll write what I’ve learnt from him later, when I’ve the time to organize my thoughts.
June come and went in a frenzy as I struggled to get used to work in Xiaomi. I’m grateful that the company allowed me to return home once a month to continue with SG Geek Girls activities. I’m even more grateful for Laura, our fantastic Android App Coach, who had a great session with the ladies who attended and taught them how to create a temperature monitoring app. I was really proud of them.
My birthday month was extra special because of a spontaneous trip to 海坨山, or Sea Dolphin Mountain, somewhere in the outskirts of Yanqing County. I signed up on a whim with my Beijing colleagues and to my surprise, found myself totally awed by the views on the mountain. We trekked in rain but were rewarded with a sea of clouds, colorful tents and an unbelievable sunset. One of the best I’ve seen in my life.
At SG Geek Girls, we had the pleasure of hosting Cindy Lin, another maker. Her talk blew my mine with it’s inter-disciplinarian perspective on the maker culture and spirit.
Cindy’s made art with snail poo, created her personal lubricants, and created a community of tinkerers, enthusiasts and amateurs in Singapore creating a space of transient food fancy and bacteria economies. Her networks and experiments in Indonesia and Shenzhen gave a great overview of the maker movement across Asia.
Make sure you check out her super interesting talk:
I attended my first Xiaomi product launch event in August. It was so well executed and the love from the fans in China was overwhelming. They were crowding all over the community team post-drinks and had such a genuine interest to get to know us. It’s nice to feel appreciated.
I really missed home on National Day. Which I spent in the Singapore embassy, with other cool Singaporeans in Beijing!
I don’t really remember much about September, except that I appeared in that month’s issue of Cosmo. And wore a $2000 dress. It was a funny experience, but so unlike me. I don’t think I’d do it again. Just not much of a power poser.
In early October, I felt I finally got what I came for when I was given the chance to sit in Lei Jun’s lecture of Xiaomi’s vision and the company’s history. His passion for life, technology and his humble, honest outlook makes me believe that the world doesn’t need to be filled with entrepreneurs who are dicks like Donald Trump. He talked a lot about the importance of community building in this session with many examples, and made me feel even more hopeful that Xiaomi’s not a company that only pays lip service to it’s customers.
Somehow, Reuben and I also got featured in this Channel News Asia short about our one year travel. Another first for me. A Singaporean couple emailed us after this, telling us they’re also on their trip! Amazing.
My first Xiaomi Global product launch was in KL, Malaysia. Really liked working with the bigger team and was amazing how it came together!
For Reuben’s birthday, I surprised him with a trip to Boracay, Philippines. It didn’t disappoint with its white powder sandy beaches and cliff diving. Was a good way to test out the Yi Action Cam too!
By now I was feeling immensely guilty for not having planned a SG Geek Girls event for long enough. So I did, with my long-time friend Tan Liren, who shed some important light on the importance of design innovation in Healthcare. Liren’s amazing at her job as UX lead at Alexandra Healthcare (based in Khoo Teck Phuat Hospital), giving some great real world examples of how simple design changes can make big differences in our habits.
I hit a few work milestones in December, throwing an oversubscribed party, proving that the intangible work we do leads to sales. It’s heartening to see that hardwork pay off. I’m going into 2016 more confident of my abilities and maintaining the “do-the-right-thing” attitude that Lei Jun has set for all Xiaomi employees.
A perfect way to end the year was meeting with Sandra, a travelmate we met in Argentina, Chile and now in Singapore! Her friend, Flo, is doing her 6 month trip across the world now too. It just feels like it’s all come full circle. Slightly surreal too to have brought her for Tau Huay and Char Kway Teow in a hawker center.
Now that Reuben and I are in the process of getting a new place, I’m obsessed with surfing home decor websites. We applied for a tiny 3-room HDB flat at Joo Seng Road, not far away from my parents’ place.
My table in my current room, inspired by the Berlin apartment we stayed in. $169 from Ikea.
After sleeping in strangers’ apartments around the world for a year, you’d think it’d be easy for me to decide what style I’d want to go for. But there are so many choices out there that I can’t really put my finger on it – Japanese Zen, Scandinavian Chic (this seems particularly popular at the moment), Minimalist / Essentialist / Quirky / Eclectic.
It seems that I’ve gotten it all wrong. It hit me that this was a great opportunity for me to re-create a space that I’d always wanted to live in, even though I couldn’t physically be in the country. Then it struck me – hands down, it would be Berlin.
Berlin? Yes, Berlin.From the minute I stepped into the youthful, spirited, hipster capital of Germany, I knew this would be one of the places I’d want to spend some part of my life in. And although it was a short 3 weeks, Reuben and I had a fantastic time living in it – meeting programmers, artistes, lying on the grass on Tempelhof Park. We both agreed that this would be the place we wouldn’t mind living in if we had to choose one for RTW.
Our Berlin Apartment
Our Airbnb apartment in Berlin, my table at home now has the exact same legs.
Again, from our Airbnb apartment in Berlin with the poofi-est and most comfortable bed
Berlin apartments share very similar traits. They are always functional, frugal, yet remain very cosy and inviting. The warm wooden hues of their floors and cupboards coupled with the sunlight that Germans love letting into their homes really go well together. The table is also a drafting board and the pretty scarf, a cool deco piece for the room.
Our homes have a tremendous impact on our well-being, both physical and mental. I like the idea that a home reflects the values you hold dear. For me, it should enable us to create and make things, be a space to share cosy moments, remind us that some of the most important things in life are those that money can’t buy.
Here are more photos I found online of this quirky, cosy, Berlin home.
Take a photo everyday for a month. (Done. On Instagram. Not a month, but it’s definitely motivated me to post more than 90 photos on Instagram this year!)
Grow my own plant. Any plant. (Done. Terrarium from Daffy and Jas)
Read 10 books. (10/10): (Done)
Midnight in Siberia // Start Something That Matters // How To Live In The City // How To Be Bored // Wonder // Its Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be // Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear// Black Coffee // Essays in Love // The Course of Love // The Sirens of Titan (WIP) // The Artist’s Way (WIP) // Kafka On The Shore (WIP) // The Art of Thinking Clearly
Write a short letter a day for someone I’m thankful for in my life for a week. (TO DO)
Reverse Bungee (Done)
I’m leaving #12 empty. For suggestions and spontaneity. Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think 🙂
I graduated at age 24, slightly older than my peers because I spent an extra year in university for exchange programs. I’m 28 now, just shy of 2 years to hitting the big 30, but it made me think a lot about what I’m expected to achieve by then.
I’ve always thought of 30 as a definitive milestone in life. This is the age where you are supposed to know what you want to do with your life. By now you are expected to have found a life partner, bought a house, get married, have your first kid, achieved some sort of career milestone, lived out all your crazy adventures such as travelling the world, or exited your startup by selling it for millions.
Maybe it’s because of the pressure from friends that I hang out with, or the people I look up to, but damn, that’s a lot to have accomplish by 30. When I look at what I’ve done, it’s easy to feel dejected. Wtf have I achieved? I haven’t started my own company and I’m definitely not any closer to earning millions. I think a lot of people my age feel the same way.
Nobody told me that I’d only have 6 years before I would be expected to accomplish all these feats. And it’s crazy – this rat race.
I’m trying to focus on the things that I have accomplished. Travelled around the world for a year, found someone who I can live the rest of my life with. Be on track to buy a house. Found work at an exciting startup with big dreams. But it never seems to be enough.
Welcome to November. My plans to have read more this year have gone severely awry. But one of the things that have disappointed me the most is that I’ve failed to read more.
I’ve been making it a point to read more fiction instead of the regular self-help books. I just finished Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In my head I kept picturing the voices as they were in the movie, but I realised that there were so many details left out from the wonderful book because of time.
Jane Austen had such a clear, critical perspective of life in her days. In Mr. Darcy’s pride, you recognize that money can’t buy everything, particularly, Elizabeth’s respect at the start of the book. It’s only towards the end, when he started acting out of love to help her that they grew fond of each other and won her heart. For Elizabeth, her prejudice against him made her blind to the wrongs that Darcy had had to endure with Mr. Wickham, and in the end it was her own sister that would suffer from her prejudices.
It’s interesting how a story can help you learn lessons.
From Pride and Prejudice, I learnt that a couple has to learn together to become the best versions of themselves. I think it’s naive to say that, “if you love me, you will accept me as I am.” A large part is realising that you are wrong, and wanting to improve.
It might have had a good ending, but it’s also far from a fairy tale. I’ve never seen so much critique in a love story about the effects of money in society and it’s power in determining who we should love. I do feel she’s a romantic at heart, because in the end the love Elizabeth and Darcy had far outdoes the pragmatic kind of love that Charlotte opted for when she decided to settle down with the annoying Mr. Collins.
Jane Austen was an excellent judge of character, reminding us that it’s more important to be a moral character, than a rich one.