Monday, October 17, 2016

缅甸篇:千万不要一个人旅行。

【去.......不去........去.........不去.....】临行前的歇斯底里。

缅甸不是什么著名的旅游胜地,2012年才开放的一个国家 - 短短的5年时间怎么可以跟已经开发成熟的旅游胜地相比?一个人这样去了之后有人会说英文吗?吃方面怎么办?我就一个小姑娘会怎样吗?我什么都还没订好、行程什么的都是free style,我要在那里干嘛?网速那么慢 (那里有网络吗?),我怎么跟外界求救沟通?....etc ....etc 最重要的是,出发前看过的那部老电影Over Rangoon让我整个腰椎冷了半截 ,感觉这个国家随时都有厮杀的情况会出现。

出发前我告诉闺蜜: If I come back alive, we shall celebrate。

我是真的,很。怕。。。什么都。怕。。

* * *

你还记得小时候戒奶瓶、奶嘴的那份勇气吗?跌倒了擦干流血的膝盖继续欢乐像没事一样...暗恋学长结果被拒绝,回家找朋友包两个小时的电话粥第二天继续精彩。小时候那种天不怕地不怕的勇气,那种越战越勇的精神...叙述起来,还真的以为那是另一个人。我似乎都已经忘了,那是曾经的我自己。

今天,很多年过去了,怕的事情越来越多 - 怕失败、怕丢脸、怕高、怕累、怕胖。怕没钱、怕没电、怕没网络。做什么事都畏首畏尾,裹足不前一阵子之后决定原地踏步 -- Play Safe。不知道哪一年学来的一句粗话,从此都小心翼翼的生活,深怕走错一步就完了。怕得有时连面对恐惧的能力都没有了。习惯了安全、依赖安逸,结果总是为小事纠结。成了一个名副其实的城市囚....

说也奇怪,人长大了不应该是越来越勇敢的吗?怎么感觉上不是这么一回事?“这种被自己设的局限囚禁的感觉让我觉得很无力。”出发缅甸之前我这样跟一个好朋友说。于是,不管多怕,我都决定了要面对恐惧,把自己逼到一个死角,唤醒那个沉睡的勇气。

* * *
在缅甸8天,老实说第二天我就给好朋友发了短信说我想退掉之前定好的行程回家了 - 我是怕的,并且越想越怕... 我说,被打败了又怎样?下一次再试就好了,总会成功的。但姐姐现在以过来人的身份告诉你,你永远都不会有下一次。这一次走了,你就是一个认输,你就是一个怕!那你就白来了....

其实说到这里,到底一个人旅行是在怕什么?更多时候,其实都在怕孤独 - 总觉得旅行就是要一群人,要分享,要成群 - 那是社会和脸书给我们的刻板印象,说到底就是一个心魔。一个人也许孤单,但一群人也未必不会。孤独可以怕,但也可以解决。这世上并不是只有跟一群人实体在一起的时候才不会觉得孤单的。网路发达不是用来摆着的,你要能够驾驭视讯,远距离爱情都能开花结果...最后我悟出的就是:心病还是要心药医。你若是有办法自得其乐,那你就happy holidays啦!你若是不能,回程的机票也不是太贵的。

我战胜了solo trip的第一道防线,完全性的被自己的勇气激励着。挨过仰光,继续了我在缅甸接下来的旅程。

* * *
战胜了孤独,我来到帕安。眼前必须挑战的是驾。驭。陌。生。

帕安不是一个热门的景点,该有的基本旅游条件都不是太完善的 - 驱车6小时来到帕安,没人听得懂英文。要打车到旅店,我孤身一人,除非是愿意当凯子多付钱被骗 - 不然就是拖着行李可怜的走10公里的路。我在车上很努力的观察每一个人,试图在某人的脸上看见“会讲英文”这四个字。都说了帕安是一个没人来的地方,旅客好少好少 ...整辆巴士都充满着缅甸人。

终于在人海茫茫看见一个昏睡中的高个儿,鼻子挺的像洋人。于是冲破自己面对陌生的恐惧,坐到他身边问了 “English?”

接下来限制级的内容就跳过不提了......但我只能说因为冲破了这到害怕陌生的防线。我脸书上现在多了一群好朋友 - 还在一个山洞里认识了一个业余的伦敦摄影师,让我看见不一样的摄影风格,突破了我在摄影这件事上的瓶颈。也造就了我在后来蒲甘拍了那堆让自己都重新恋上自己的作品。生活有时候会让人陷入一种死胡同,很郁闷的感觉。就因为认识了新朋友,突然觉得天空都为我放晴了....

生活在城市久了,很多人都在自己的周围驻了一道高墙。面对陌生人都不再放开心怀好好做自己,甚至必须在不同的人、环境、事物的情况下,带着不一样的面具生活着。最后连最初的自己都已经忘记了....只有在这种异地,失去了所有可以依赖的安逸,那瞬间的你自己才会得到真正的释放....重新找回自己的那瞬间,除了感动还是感动,像找回失连的双生姐姐一样....
* * *

每个人都说来到蒲甘,必须看日出。但你知道,要看日出,要起很早.....而且,蒲甘的日出不是那么容易看的...要爬很高。

首先,我很怕高。再来,我很懒。上一次早上抹黑起床是我17岁的时候了....

第一天骑着单车来到一个叫做Bulethi的宝塔。那已经是日落的时间了,只想要看看环境再决定第二天要不要来看明天的日出。带了相机、脚架,兴致勃勃。结果一看那宝塔也太。恐。怖。了吧!差不多两层楼高的宝塔,必须从宝塔外围的石头阶梯上爬上去...总之就是一个危险。阶梯差不多就一个小脚掌那么宽,没有扶手!随时都可能丧命的感觉。我还笨的背着脚架...

结果那天什么都没拍,保命都来不及了还拍!但心里就是一个不爽:我要找到更好的宝塔,算是给自己的跋山涉水做一个交代...

第二天爬的是一个荒山里面的宝塔,但忘了把脚架带出来,结果没把自己心目中想拍的样子拍出来。于是把自己原本应该回家的行程再延迟了一天,下定决心第三天一定要把日出拍好。

结果第三天,终于也在我屡试不爽的毅力下,我拍到了人生中第一个日出.....


呃,我不是说了我怕高?怕懒?怕累?怕什么的?

原来这么专注的、努力的、疯狂的去追求一个愿望,是一件那么自由的一件事。就像我小时候为了考上好中学愿意通宵不睡的毅力,我以为随着年龄跟体力消逝,这种事已经跟我没关系了。体力可以练、毅力可以培养,重点就是你到底多有决心?等值交易,就是你付出多少努力就得到多少快乐。看见别人的好消息,选择妒忌还是自己努力争取。现在的我,选择了后者,成为了更快乐更正面的小妮子。旅行,让你用一个全新的角度去认识新的国家,更重要的其实是认识你自己。一个人旅行让你自由的跟自己对话,去享受那个me time,更了解自己要的是什么,怎样成为更好、更健康的人。

我说,你千万都不要一个人去旅行,因为这件事。会。上。瘾。。。。。

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Pagoda-hopping in Bagan by Electric Bike: Myanmar Photo Blog

"Can I walk from here to the pagodas?" I asked.

"OH NO! (Waving his hand) Too far... Too far... 7 kilometers..." The little boy I bumped into at a motorbike shop said. " E-bike.. E-bike".

I was skeptical... I have never ridden on a motor bike before. I have ridden on the back of motorbikes, but I had never actually been the driver (corrected by my past motorbike drivers who insisted that I have ridden on motorbikes before, just not the driver). The E-bike he pointed to me looks like a "real thing" and I didn't think I could handle by myself. But this is my first day in Old Bagan and I WANTED to see the pagodas so badly. I said to the boy, "Teach me".

This is how an e-bike look like.
To my surprise, I got a hang of handling an electric bike in less than 10 minutes of training. It felt like riding a heavier bicycle without having to pedal it. It ran at 20-30 km/hr. Nice and slow. I paid 6,000 kyats for rental and headed right to the direction where I got myself started with my pagoda-hopping adventure!

It was rainy the past two days so the path was a little muddy.
But, who cares! 
Puddles? Not a problem! 
Put on your sandals and deal with the mud!
Don't wear white, though.
Isn't this lovely?
Pagodas were EVERYWHERE!!  Left, right, back, front!!!
A 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit Myanmar in August and some pagodas got hit on the top - so, some re-construction works is currently happening. Mostly on the top.



Some bigger pagodas which cars/tourist coaches could reach.
Having enough seen of the outside of the pagodas - which honestly looked pretty similar from pagoda to pagoda except for the size and accessibility. The following are a bunch of pictures showing the inside of the pagodas that I have stopped by and visited - In a nutshell, every pagoda, big or small, has a buddha statue in it. For some (bigger) pagodas, there is a pagoda caretaker sitting in the pagoda helping you out with getting your lower body covered with longyi if you are wearing shorts or making sure you remove your shoes before entering. No shoes or shorts is allowed in these pagoda temples. 

These pagoda caretakers were also doing a little bit of business selling their sand paintings. Just be nice and patient when you are repeatedly being shown the same sand paintings again and again. They are really low income earners trying to make a little bit more to live comfortably - they barely made USD100 a month for living - They are okay people and helped me out with directions even I did not end up buying anything.

Giant buddha statue with a little construction works happening at the side.

Golden buddha.
Caretaker and buddha statue.
Standing buddha statue and a police man who showed me the best pagoda to go for sunrise.
A hidden one.
Some other pagodas with slightly unique designs:
Shwe Zi Gon pagoda - just 600 meters away from where I lived.
Bu Paya temple right by the Ayerwaddy river.
And also the candid moments with beautiful Burmese people:
I later found out that she was actually hiding to speak on the phone. She works by the river.
Monk making prayer.
Construction workers and policeman.
Burmese ladies selling snacks. Good balancing skill, hur?
Grandma making prayer.




The sole reason why I decided to go to Myanmar was because I have always wanted to visit Bagan in person - where some 2000 pagodas stood mightily for hundreds of years from the early civilization. Even though I still don't understand why the king has to build so many pagodas/temples and many pagodas were just a few centimeters away. Would it be possible that there might be a secret message hidden behind the locations of these pagodas? Maybe I would find out the message when I got to the top...

This morning, I self-forced to wake up at 4.30am for the worldly Bagan sunrise - Shwe San Daw pagado it is I was heading to - which was about 10 minutes bike ride from where I lived. It was cold riding in the morning and I was hungry. With me, I had my camera, bags and tripod. The thought of giving up and sleep in was fighting on my mind against the urge to see the sunrise ten times on my way to the pagoda. The road was empty and I kinda doubted on my decision to wake up this early. Until I arrived at the spot, and little did I know that the reward was well worth anything it took to bring me there in Bagan.




Thank you Bagan for your greatness. I appreciate that I got to see this phenomenal sunrise in person during my lifetime. I doubt everyone has the luxury to travel like me or to be blessed with the courage to explore an exotic plain by myself just all out of spontaneity. And just because I am alone, I get to experience this timeless gem of Asia from a completely different perspective. Thank you again, Bagan, for being charming Bagan - I am not sure if this is the message that THE ONE who built these pagodas was trying to convey to his future generations, but I learn today, to appreciate nature, to give back to nature, to be nice to people, to be genuine and work hard to be rewarded. 

Thank you Bagan... till next time!

Sunday, September 25, 2016

跟别人不一样,又怎样?

从小到大成绩一向优秀的我到了高一那年顺其自然的就上了理科第一班,那年只是16岁只觉得什么事都跟着同班的朋友一起做就不会有错: 该读书的时候读书、该睡觉的时候睡觉。当时社会给我们这群孩子的压力就是:成绩好的人读理科,出路广。一直到我16岁,我都是一个很顺从主流的孩子。所以选了理科,是一个很自然地决定。

这,没什么不好的…也没什么好的

上理科第一年,一个很明显的状况就出现了:我对物理、化学、生物,一点兴趣都没有。课本都是英文字,对当时的我而言有一定的难度。我尝试很努力的明白老师在讲什么,但发现每一堂课都像在上外文。我的成绩从90分跌到及格边缘,最后变成不及格 –  有一天我鼓起勇气回家跟妈妈说,我要转商

这个决定引起了小轰动 – 快没把我送到神父那里开解 。但我最后还是坚持转了商 – 一个非常不被祝福的决定,甚至感觉大家有种在看我好戏的感觉。我毕竟比正常的商科生少上一年基础课,高二那年成绩并不理想 – 会计为什么要credit,什么时候debit,balance sheet为什么可以不Balance..我都是到高三统考之前才茅塞顿开的!

高三以非常好的统考成绩,我被新加坡大学录取了,念统计学 Statistics ,因为喜欢数学– 但刚开始在新加坡的日子并不好过,总觉得哪里不对。所以我根本没去上课。到了年终考试去考场,算是第一次见过教授 – 可想而知,成绩应该是很“标清”的。到了大四,大家开始思考人生 – 成绩好的人找工作只是一个选择题。成绩不好的我们,就要考虑是不是要选择一个专业以外的工作,接受比较不好的待遇。

我并不想放弃统计,虽然大学积分不好。在一次机缘巧合的情况下接触了保险和精算 – 于是私底下付了考试费然后考了几门精算文凭,一个在妈妈口中觉得冷门又辛苦的科系。再一次做一个不被祝福的决定 –市面上成绩好的精算毕业生比比皆是,哪有我的份?我不信邪,真的勇闯这家保险公司就递了我的履历。这个被大家都取笑的动作,让我踏进我人生中第一份工作的门槛 – 我必须承认一开始待遇不是那么好,可是我只有23岁,第一次工作,谁知道什么叫做negotiate?总之就是懵懵懂懂的,把自己卖了….

我这个大家眼中成绩次等的大学生,反而因为我的误打误撞,进了当时大家认为至少second upper才进得去的保险公司。为什么?因为我不信邪,我尝试了…

在这家公司一呆,五年了 – 我从local,做到regional,还做了global。我碰到对我好的上司,太多了。我做过的事已经超过精算师能做的。我不断地突破自己,突破别人对我的期望,突破所有人的意料,一次次的创造奇迹。就因为,我从来不局限自己 - 从来不相信我必须去做每个人都做的事。我必须重申,那没什么不好的…但真的没什么好的! 我的工作让我去到世界很多地方,听起来是个人人称羡的工作,但其实我真正享受的是每一次我能够碰见一个新的工作问题,在一起的创造更厉害的履历。

今年七月,我决定take a break。就在人人都认为我事業如日中天的时候…..

又是一个非常不被祝福的决定。但到了今天我已经28了 -我對自己适合什么、喜欢什么、应该做什么,有一定的要求。There is never a good time to quit – 行情好的时候不能quit,行情不好的时候更不能quit,那请问我是要一生一世都在同一个圈子里面打转?五年来我的努力,我的成绩,我算是对得起自己、对得起公司了 – 如果经济负担的来,再加上单身一个人没什么包袱,我觉得这是一个非常适合给自己好好休息的时间。

让一切归零…

这一段休息的时间,如之前几篇部落格所言,我做了一些我一直想做却因为工作没办法好好做的事 – 画画、拍照、锻炼、陪家人、陪自己….很完美的三个月假期。现在身体状况已经恢复,精神状况什么的都已经到达一个巅峰。这个时候的我,只会创造更无限的可能,没别的! (之后请到我的公司,有福了⋯)

这样,不是更好嘛? 为什么一定要随波逐流 - 到底是你过人生,还是人生过你?

没有人有责任负担我的人生,除了我自己 – 我曾经因为做了很多不被祝福、非主流的决定,而受到异样的眼光,甚至是听见非常负面的声音 – 那不是什么很愉悦的感觉,其实很多时候都感觉很孤独。反思了很久,回看我这十年来做过的大小事,疯狂过、做错事过、哭过、跌过…现在的我,对未来充满期待跟幻想,似乎比18岁的时候更18岁了。

讲真的⋯⋯跟别人不一样,又怎样?


Saturday, September 24, 2016

5 things to feel better on a Saturday afternoon

For whoever you are -  a housewife, a technician, a librarian, a barista...a lawyer, a doctor, a politician ...Have you ever feel like a failure? Maybe it's time of the month, maybe I am just feeling lonely, or maybe I am just thinking too much. But I felt like I am a failure, the past two days. I need help, and I need someone to talk to.

I got really down and this afternoon I made a very terrible painting - I doubt on myself, I doubt on my capability, I doubt on the meaning of life. I was just being a complete negative grumpy butt. I thought I was not going to make it through this thunderstorm. For one moment, I was just going to give up a very good opportunity that came by, that many people are dying for.

I hope this article at least help those are feeling shitty out there..



I am sorry that you are feeling shitty right now. I have recovered, somewhat, and ready to take on more and live life to fullest. These are 5 things I did, and I appreciate not only your sweet notes about my blog.. but if you do want to share your stories with me, I am more than happy to listen to them :)
  1. To talk about it, multiple times. I rang a friend who is now living in Adelaide. She's my sweetest ever childhood friend I can rely on telling her everything. We spoke for about an hour, she's the best ever listener/speaker you can ask for. She told me to talk about my problems to many people, and I can take in or ignore any comments out of my problems, the main objective is to talk about the problem, again and again. By repeating the same story again and again, you tend to get less interested about the issue - in a way, you pay less attention to the destructing feelings arising out of the problem. Rather, you feel like it's not a big deal anymore! 
  2. To feel love (again) for the world. Do you still love the world? What have you done to make the world a better place? I went into this deepest self depreciation mode that I just disregard my worth - I think I am worthless - I don't think I can do anything to change the world, neither I think anyone can. But in fact, as a barista, a good cup of coffee may make the day for a customer. A small conversation you made with your friend, may change a decision and save a life. This is HOW MUCH you can make this world a better place to live, as long as you still feel the love for the world.   
  3. To focus on yourself. Will you hang out with someone who is just like you? I said No to myself when I was a grumpy butt. But a big YES when I am confident and upbeat. I almost feel like I would date myself when I feel good, sometimes. Be the person you would date. Look gorgeous, put on colorful clothing, learn a new skill, make a new friend, brag about your achievement, go run in the park.. I mean, anything that can only bring plus points to make you an improved person. For yourself, not others. Shut the door and talk to yourself, what is it that you want to see yourself in the near future and do whatever it takes to be that person. RIGHT NOW.   
  4. To dream a dream. Many people don't have a dream. It's really good to invest in one. For me, I would like to travel 100 countries before I die and I have done 20% now. It's really important to re-look into my results and make a progress. The number countries I have visited has been stagnant for a while now and certainly I would like to make a plan to get it working again. Just when I was feeling shitty, I forgot I have a dream that I can look forward to.    
  5. To blog about it. Few days back on my friend's Facebook, he said that he missed having a blog and read about friends' blogs after school. During the MSN era, blogging was a big thing in our neighborhood. But sadly today, people are more inclined towards "piece meal" posts on Facebook/Instagram/Reddit, just a line or two. The reason why I blog because I would like others to rethink about the way they live - through my travels, through my words, through my pictures. You might be reading in private - and that's okay - I am happy that you read my blog. I have received so many private message asking questions and I love them. I don't make money out of my blog, and it is not easy at all to make blogs.. But this is the least I can do, to share and to love people.  
There is no reason to hate yourself or think you're no good. Whatever the reason it is I am feeling shitty, what's more important is how I recognized that I am feeling shitty, and that I seek help and how I helped myself out of it and feel confident again. I am not here telling you that you NEED to do these 4 things to feel better - simply, I am just suggesting that I did these to feel good.  Happy Saturday! 



Thursday, September 22, 2016

My secret discovery on the Palawan island - Marimegmeg Beach,Philippines


Where is Marimegmeg?
The island of Palawan in the Philippines is famous for its stunning beaches. Marimegmeg beach is one of those that is less known to the outside world compared to the others (Bora Bora, Boracay..), my discovery for this hidden gem was a pure accident - only to find out later that I am simply mesmerized by its unquestionable beauty and decided to make it home for a month. This is the most charming little heaven I have ever seen, almost unreal.

This evening, Scott and I decided to venture out from the Caalan island for our daily jog. We were simply bored and aimless about our destination.  We walked to the Corong Corong beach where we normally would stop and grab a bite but this time decided to venture deeper into the unknown. The next moment when we saw a group of Filipinos, cheering and singing by the beach, we noticed that we have arrived at a new territory.

Marimegmeg is very much a local beach, you barely find any resorts or proper set ups for visitors - that say, do not expect water sports or any sort of restaurants on the beach if that's what you are after - We loved Marimegmeg so much that evening that we went back to Corong Corong quickly, picked up a few beers and sandwiches and head back to Marimegmeg to spend that night. We did not leave the beach until 4am the next morning, obviously drunk but totally excited to share with the other people on our team about our new discovery on the Palawan.

The next day morning, I decided to head back to Marimegmeg on my own to see the little beach during the day. And these are two of the thousand photos I snapped of my little secret beach - Marimegmeg. You can see Paradise island from Marimegmeg if that shed some clue on where this beach is located...

Turquoise blue water and white powdery sand
Clear water - almost like zero pollution has happened
Candy man on the beach :)
I was initially contemplating about sharing this blog because I kind of want to make it MY secret little beach – There is no standard boat tours major agencies or hotels would offer to come here today because this is just an empty beach that those tours were not able to collect any commission from any vendors. So unfortunately the only way to get here is to walk, or ride a motorcycle/tricycle..  However, due to its location proximity to the famous Corong Corong beach,  Marimegmeg is going to get discovered by more people soon. There is local rumor that has been running around for a while about a potential business project to build big hotels on the beach.. So I share this blog because I want you to come find this place quickly, enjoy the pristine beauty of this tropical wonder and not spend a fortune on it!

And something not to be missed is definitely the sunset...I then came here every evening either with my picnic basket or beer bucket just for the sunset. We made Marimegmeg our party home and star gazing through the wee hours, nightly. I almost feel like I am blanketed by the diamond sky sleeping like a baby on the beach - listening to the sound of the ocean pushing towards the sand and make a very comfortable lullaby. 


But one thing I do caution every visitors before you set your foot on the quest in search for the Marimegmeg - There are plenty of sandflies on the beach under the trees, so bringing along of bugs spray is wise. I got bitten by sandflies pretty badly and later had to travel quite a distance out to town to get a doctor because I (apparently) have got pretty bad allergy reaction to sandfly bites. So, just be careful!  

The local kids greeting rare visitors just right outside Marimegmeg
Marimegmeg became where I lounged most of the time during my stay in the Philippines - Water is warm and translucent - I came here for swimming, to watch the sunset, to run my daily 5KM, practise yoga, to have a picnic, to paint... If I could build a little hut on the beach and live there, I would. For adventure seekers who are already bored of standard travel packages and ready to hit the off beaten path, I highly recommend Marimegmeg. As much as we all hope to reserve this beautiful little natural gem, let's all travel responsibly by making sure that we don't leave any garbage behind on the beach :)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Airbnb and Montenegro

I became a member of Airbnb since December 2013 and did not use their service until my trip to Boston a year later. I was skeptical about staying with strangers back then - But, Boston hotels were expensive and I needed a private room to myself. I had a tight budget and I chanced upon a friend who told me about using Airbnb as a budget alternative to hotels and she also told me about the company's robust host verification process to ensure safety of their customers. So there I downloaded the Airbnb app on my phone and made my first booking. Since then, I have used Airbnb for my trips to Taiwan, Barcelona, Sri Lanka, Montenegro, Slovenia and still using it today!

I am really impressed by Airbnb's booking through payment process - All you need to do is to enter your destination, stay dates and number of guests. Then you will be spoil with a WIDE RANGE of options to select from. Depending on your specific needs, you can also filter your options by prices, locations, privacy, amenities..etc. You can make a booking for a night, a week or month/months... Payment is made electronically. You can message the host if you have more questions. So everything is ONLINE, and all you need to do is to click a few buttons! Isn't internet amazing?

NOTE: I am not making any profit writing this, even though I wish I could. Many people have asked how I kept my travel costs low and using Airbnb is one of the reasons. I used a lot of Hostelbookers and Booking.com in the past. But I really like Airbnb very much because of my pleasant experience so far. There is a small processing fee in place but I can live with that.  For first timers, you might want to read this before making your first booking! Good luck and enjoy your travels~~~

Making our booking, instantly

Julian and I arrived in Kotor Bay, Montenegro by bus from Dubrovnik – A day before heading out of Dubrovnik, we tried looking for a room in Kotor Bay on Airbnb app (yes, we only make plans the day before, super last minute). We came across Ranko’s place out in Tivat which looked like it was close to Kotor on the map. We also confirmed that there was a kitchen at her place that we could make our own food. So there we completed our booking within 20 minutes including verification and making a payment, totally hassle free! And yes, having a kitchen is a big part when Julian and I choose our travel accommodation and you will know why later! 


Our kind host in Montenegro - Ranko

Our host Ranko picked us up from the bus station at Tivat FREE OF CHARGE – We communicated through the chatting function on Airbnb app the whole morning, she guided me thoroughly to make sure I boarded the right bus and arrived safely -  She and her cousin also helped us with our luggage and also got us to the supermarket for grocery shopping. Within a few minutes of drive, we arrived at Ranko’s place and we were all set to explore a new city. WE LOVED Montenegro….

Unfortunately on the next day, I felt sick because I caught a cold from the rain in Barcelona few days back. So, I seek help again from our host Ranko to find a doctor close by. Ranko was super attentive and drove me to the nearby clinic and helped with translation and spoke to the nurses. I saw a doctor and soon recovered in two days. So you see how I met great people using Airbnb service whom I once called them stranger and was skeptical about staying with them! And special thanks to Julian who took care of me the entire time at Tivat. 

Wen’s little words: All these kind gestures that I almost thought they do not exist anymore have made the entire stay in Montenegro a pleasant one. Ranko did not ask for a tip for her extra service, she could have booked a taxi for me to the clinic instead of driving me there. She was not obliged at all to do this for me other than renting the room to me. This was all out of her kindness and I felt loved, genuinely, as human being.  

Our next nice little apartment in Montenegro

As I recovered, Julian and I decided to stay closer to the bay in Kotor so we booked another apartment right outside the fortress. That’s the beauty of not making pre-planned hotel bookings for your entire trip because you get to be very flexible with making changes along the trip! This time, our little apartment has got EVERYTHING you need to live like a real local person. Our apartment has a little kitchen that has all the utensils ready to make basic dinner, a proper bedroom, a little living room with a TV, fantastic bathroom with WASHING MACHINE (Oh my god, we can do our laundry for free!) - all to yourself! The host and his family live by the unit downstairs. We also have a little balcony where we could enjoy the view of the fortress and some old deserted factories – We were absolutely happy with our apartment… the location, the amenities, the booking process, the price.. just everything! We truly felt like we were home staying at the apartment.

The little kitchen and a bar top table at our Kotor apartment.
This is why we like having a kitchen....Wen's signature spaghetti feast. 
Our little living room. Huge, eh?
We hiked the fortress the next day and recommend anyone who is visiting Kotor to do the same! We also made our way to the Lady of the Rocks and swam a little bit in water. We also took the Blue Line (bus company) and go around the coastline by Kotor Bay - Montenegro just felt very peaceful, slow paced, quiet and relatively undiscovered in general. I definitely love the friendly people Have I said this before? We LOVED Montenegro…. 

Last but not least, lovely pictures and VIDEO brought to you from Montenegro, Kotor Bay.....

Tvrđave Kotora - Kotor Fortress and the view...OMG

Rocky stairs up the Kotor fortress of height about 1.2km. Woof.. 

Almost the top.. and other people.

The stunning view

Another stunning view - it's okay to be jealous.
Me enjoying the bird-eye view of Kotor Bay

Perast coast
The Roman Catholic Church of the Lady of the Rocks

Looking back from the boat on our way heading to the Lady of the Rock - the Perast coastline.




Friday, September 9, 2016

How I work and travel 20 countries in 3 years?

Many people are very curious about my travel & work (or nomadic) lifestyle in the past few years - I have visited more than 20 countries in the last three years and normally stayed in a new country between weeks and months as long as I like the place - Very often, people asked me how do I travel so much and still get so much work done and still look like I have so much energy to spare?

Let me start by introducing this word if this is all new to you - Nomad.

My favorite description for Nomad can be found here : " A nomad constantly changes locations, switching from one place to another. Most nomads have some kind of place that they can call home, which is usually where their family or childhood friends are located, but they wouldn’t spend more than a few months a year there. Nor would they settle down in a new home, they just keep on changing a place, never feeling really at home, change is home. "

Internet played a big part to make this nomadic lifestyle happen for me. The type of work I was involved in included data management, analytics, sending emails and attending meetings via the phone - which is probably how your job might sound like, too. I also worked for a global company reporting to a manager who based in the states and my peers were all around the world (New York, London, ...etc). So our communications were made remotely and  my physical appearance is never needed at the office. There were still some occasions when I was needed personally at the office which then I would be making arrangements to make it happen. But other times, I would just choose a country that I like and work from any locations.

This is a growing community. Many companies today are moving towards digitalization or "cloud-based" solution as the earth is getting overly crowded and office rental is rising every single day. More and more work can be done remotely now than before. There is also a rising supply of "hotel offices" these days if you have noticed where you could rent a small little office room/cubicle for few hours so that you could still do physical meetings rather than renting a permanent office location and pay crazy rents every month not to mention the maintenance and business continuity aspects of it. All these have enabled nomadic lifestyle and make it more and more possible.

Hotel offices are not the only places I worked at. I did my work at any places with working internet ranging from my hostels, hotels, internet cafes, coffee shops, Starbucks.. etc.

My temporary "office" in Cambodia - Feb 2014

It isn't easy in the beginning. If what I have said above sounds appealing and you are about to pack your luggage and sail the sea. Let me caution you about the hardship as well. A change is never easy in the beginning - you are used to paper and seeing coworkers. You are used to the routine lifestyle at the office and the physical interaction with people at lunch. You are going to lose all of that when you are travelling. Printers are not easily found and you don't see coworkers anymore. You have to fix your problems with just your computer (sometimes being your own IT support) and the mental adaptation to this change of work style...These small little problems can be devastating... Think about that!

I used to like to print all my reports in paper form and read only paper reports. It took me a while until I could get rid of that printing habit and read soft copies. I also needed to use my mouse all the time but now I can easily handle spreadsheets with the touch pad on the laptop so that I can be more portable and worry less about carrying digital gadgets as I travel.

I worked 50 hours a week at odd timings. Being a digital nomad as well doesn't mean that you work less than people who go to the office, there are indeed time when I could be more relaxed and go swimming when possibly office goers are just done with lunch and heading back to work. But most other times, I attend to odd timing conference calls until 1-2am and wake up 6am the next day to attend conference calls with Australian/New Zealander coworkers. I tried not to go beyond what I could handle physically, I worked 50 hours on average every week. And by working 50 hours I meant being really in the productive mode but not chatting with a coworker who walked past my work station or munching snacks from Japan brought from a vacation. You know, the little office distractions that normally takes up 20-30% your time at the office (C'mon, be honest!).

I wouldn't be able to achieve so much if I hadn't been travelling. So part of this whole idea is also because I like travelling. Not everybody adores this idea of being mobile and not stationed somewhere - Being in a new country/place every other week, meeting new people, listening to new experiences inspires creativity. Whenever I felt stuck, I would take a break and walk down a new art street or try new food. I became absolutely location-independent and felt more powerful as an individual. I felt like if I survived work travelling, I survive any circumstances!

I also thank my past managers who were extremely supportive with me being location independent - there were times when I weren't able to respond to emails as quickly as I wished because internet wasn't working well. So that has then became my number one priority when it comes to selecting travel destination. But most other times, I don't see myself lacking behind in terms of performance because I am location-free. My work performance reviews have all this justified.

There is just this much time I have and so many places I wanted to see. Being a digital nomad allows me to do work that I am passionate about, while living the dream to travel the world. I met Jay for the first time when he was traveling in Singapore few years back, he was the one who inspired me into this concept of digital nomad and right now he is really successful with his startup company and still kicking ass every day as a digital nomad! Please support his article here.

I hope this has explained a lot of those questions you have about my nomadic lifestyle - for those who have only heard this for the first time, look it up on the internet today and find out more! You never know if this is going to be something you will be interested in. One thing worth at least a try is working from home a day or two this week and share your questions - do not be afraid of making a mistake because that's how you become a better nomad!

Enjoy!

Wen


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

I am on a career break.

I felt the urge to share this personal experience today - I have been looking for the right description for my current "state" but the search hasn't been successful until my beer talk last night with a few people I met for the first time. It was an accomplishing, fulfilling and rewarding conversation that brought me a whole host of psychic reward.

And I am officially announcing here that I am on a career break right now and the reason I am doing this is to elevate the quality of my life and to replenish my own sense of wonder for the world we live in. 

Whenever I mention to someone that I am currently unemployed or I quit my last job to take a break, the most common response is a variation of "that's what young people would do" and "Are you mad?". But seriously, career break is essential, almost as important as planning out for your career path or even your whole life. And career breaks are NOT ONLY for young and single people. With good amount of planning, EVERYBODY can (or need to) go on a career break. You just have to be intentional about it!

I worked at my last company for five years and I have done really well at work. I have received good number promotions and everyone I worked with was absolutely cool. I remember when I told my manager that I have decided to quit and spend some time travelling. She was so shocked because I just got promoted and was about to receive a larger role. My manager suggested that I could take a shorter break and offered me different options to work flexibly/remotely while I could still travel.

One night I was sitting with myself, weighing all my life priorities and options. Considering who I am, what I want and what to do next. It's the burning desire to learn moved me to act in unexpected ways and led me to overcome this tempting period - I was almost going to fall back and postpone career break to "next year" that is not going to come.  I knew I had to change - so I decided to listen to my heart and do it THIS TIME.

So I went back to my manager, turned her down nicely, served my notice period and officially became unemployed one fine morning day. Was it hard to leave? Actually, it was the easiest thing to do. It almost felt natural.

But just to remind everyone that this was not an impulsive decision that I have made without thinking. I came up with a rough idea on duration, finance, timing and what I would like to do this entire time. I always keep my exit strategy in place just to make sure if anything goes out of hand. I know my next few months are not going to be the same as how it was like in the last five years. But if I survived my career break, I am going to become an improved version of myself and that's what I want.

My life has indeed become so much simpler and meaningful when I left the baggage of my past behind and head out of home. I could no longer spend like how I used to be, no more expensive dresses and new bags every two months. I had to budget my spending daily, weekly and monthly. Not going to lie, sometimes I have to eat cheap to save for flight tickets or when I overspent from previous night's beers. Not traveling like a glamorous traveler posting cute selfies tasting great food at fine restaurants. I wore shorts and plain t-shirts. I literally lived in hostels and make my own food at the kitchen. I have to work sometimes so that I can get free lodging just to save every single penny possible to keep life going. But, I learnt to appreciate the little pleasures in life even more.

So what have I been up to during the last few months of career break?I volunteered, traveled, painted, took pictures, tried yoga, ran 5km daily, made new friends and spent good amount of time at home with family. Indulging myself in the pursuit for my passion(s) and to adopt new passion. Simply things that I have been wanting to spend my full attention on for so long, and I called it a reward for working five years straight for one single company.

And this is totally logical if you think about it - We need to get rewarded for doing something good so you would perform better in the future. Sometimes we reward our subordinates at work by giving promotions, we reward our children on their birthdays or doing well at school, we reward our parents on special occasions... This is how I felt is necessary to reward myself in order to function better as Wen - professionally, personally and spiritually.

I have met many people who have been working straight for decades to fulfill all sorts of different life commitments, mostly financial commitments - home mortgage, children's education, expensive cars, designers' bags, alcohols, luxurious holidays...etc etc. When I spoke with them, they are normally people who have all sorts of complaints about their spouse, their work, and their lives. And when I asked if they have considered a break, those are the people who asked if I were mad and according to their schedule for a break, retirement it is. Quitting job without an alternative job offer in place is an absolute absurd thing to do.

You know what is best for you and your life. I am sharing today because it just seems to me like "career break" has never been a life option or a society norm to most people - almost like an alienated term or negative action to some people. The objective of me writing this article today is to share with you that taking breaks is not an option only for young people but EVERYONE, you just need to make good planning for it. It does you good and make you better. I have done it and certainly feel proud about it - Everyone has different needs for breaks. I know a friend (click here to read his blog) who has done it for years and he is simply kicking ass. Another friend who has just started on his career break for two months and is enjoying every single day of his life venturing into new knowledge every day.

There are no doubt examples of people who gave up in the middle of their breaks but never have I heard about them regretting their decision to take a career break. They returned to their original life as a new and changed person that they adored even more than before. So you can always be very flexible about how you like to design this break for no one else, but for yourself!

So.....Career break it is, something you may want to start thinking about for yourself today!



Sunday, September 4, 2016

How I made my fireworks photographs

I enjoyed photographing fireworks a lot because every shot is a surprise. If you have done enough research, practiced and planned ahead, maybe you can make better guesses and increase your chances to make a picture that you were hoping for. But there is NEVER a guarantee to that, which made the process so exciting! 

Today I am sharing some of my fireworks photographs. How I made them, where I made them and how I would have made them better in the future. They are not perfect shots but I still like them very much. They represent the different stages of my journey through learning about photography.  

So, here you go: 
Oct 2014 Seoul, Korea: Pentax K-r, 1/13 sec, f/5.6, 42.5mm, ISO1600
This is the yearly Seoul international fireworks festival that I saw in year 2014 - It is still happening every year between August to October today and you can find more information about the event here. This is a two-hour long fireworks performance. It was truly an eye-opening moment to witness such an impressive fireworks presentation, for such a long duration! This is definitely a very good practice field for any first-timer in firework photographing. I did not arrive early to find a good spot for the fireworks and it took my friend and I some time snaking through the human traffic in search for an okay spot with minimum obstacles.  

Tripod is KEY to shooting fireworks because you are going to set your shutter speed around 2 to 7 seconds. You are NOT going to hold your camera sturdily for that sort of duration so you NEED a tripod. The above picture was taken at shutter speed 1/13 sec. This is not a super fast shutter speed, but definitely not sufficient to achieve the kind of fireworks effect with long and smooth curvy light trails I was hoping for. Another obvious example of high shutter speed fireworks photograph is in the following. You will get to see how the lights were showing up spotty instead of curvy long trails, all because of shutter speed!

Dec 2014 - Bangkok. Thailand: Pentax K-r, 1/25 sec, f/4.5, 18mm, ISO1600
Low ISO. You also want to use a lower ISO like ISO100 or 200 (at max). I used an ISO1600 here and my pictures turned out grainy or what people called it "noisy". I was worried that my pictures would turn out underexposed if I used a low ISO but I forgot to leave room for the lights from the fireworks either. Note that!

And this picture above  was captured at the Thai King's 87th birthday in 2014 - somewhere close to Khao San Road in Bangkok. Fireworks lasted only for a few minutes and wasn't the main attraction for the entire birthday event. Thousands of people (wearing yellow) gathered on the street which made setting our cameras up extremely unsafe. We went without a tripod so I left with no choice but to resort to a high shutter speed which resulted in the kind of spotty fireworks effects you see in the picture above. 
July 2015 - Singapore NDP : Pentax K-3, 5 secs, f/10, 24mm, ISO100
This is a shot from the Singapore national day fireworks rehearsal outside the parliament house in 2015. Another yearly event for any photography lovers visiting the Merlion city. This fireworks performance normally lasts for a few weeks prior to the actual national day on Aug 9th each year to ensure perfection on the actual day. So you get to try out your shots from different locations during different rehearsals and get a taste of different backdrops for your fireworks pictures! Now that I am into framing...

Clearly I have done some good amount of research before making this shot and learnt all my lessons in the past - from getting to the spot early, bringing a tripod, setting shutter speed, using a good aperture to framing my photos properly...etc. And I was pretty happy with what I have got.

Narrow aperture. I like the effect of f/11 and f/13 on the pictures. Especially with my camera. Maybe it's just me. But share your thoughts of wide or narrow apertures to use for fireworks photographing. I have also upgraded my camera from a Pentax Kr to K3 since 2015 so the quality of my pictures have also improved a lot since. So it might not be an apple to apple comparison in terms of pictures quality.
July 2015 - Singapore NDP : Pentax K-3, 6 secs, f/13, 18mm, ISO100

This year, I went for the Singapore national day fireworks rehearsal again. I decided to walk an extra mile to make this new stadium dome my backdrop for this picture. I like how the lights showing the Singapore flag is projecting on the dome and fits into the picture nicely together with the light trails of the fireworks. I also took this picture in raw mode so that I could brighten the background a little bit to balance out the difference in brightness between the back and foreground afterwards.

Now you see, making spectacular fireworks photographs is not pure luck, I learnt it through hanging out with other photographer friends and through the world wide web. I am not making any profit out of photographing (YET), I am just an ordinary person constantly wanting to try something different and make better pictures. Now that I have basic ideas capturing the light trails properly, I am now focusing more on framing and composition of my future fireworks pictures.  Stay tuned!