#34-Finding Gratitude Once Again

A wise man whom I met on one of my travels once shared this with me this quote from Mark Twain, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

I think I definitely have an answer for the former, and am very thankful to my parents for bringing me to this beautiful world. However, for the latter, I am still trying to figure that out, every single day. We tend to cruise through life without giving it much thought, and let the practicalities of life guide us through our decision making.

Humans have a tendency to take things for granted, and that can manifest itself in many ways. The fact that one lets the practicalities of life guide you is an indication of that. I am very guilty of that. I have been keeping myself really busy the last few months, but it still doesn’t amount to much. There isn’t much self-satisfaction. Ironically, there seems to be more satisfaction when I was unemployed. There is nothing wrong with my current life on the surface, but deep down, I feel that everything about it is wrong. By not chasing my dreams, there is a part of me that is always craving for the “what-ifs”. However, I am limited by the practicalities of life for now. I see my parents growing old, and their desire to see me tread the path that everyone is on no doubt holds me back. Is it their dream or is it my dream? Or is it just what society defines as the norm? Is there really something wrong when you don’t fall into the “norm”? Every individual is different, and I believe succumbing to social norms just isn’t the right thing to do.

Happiness comes from within, and this is something I am still striving for, every single day. Starting with being grateful and appreciating the little things in life, I think my goal for the rest of 2016 is to start being thankful for the little things that make me smile, however small they might be.

Perhaps, just maybe, it is time to get back on the road, and try to find those answers.

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#33 – Solo Traveling

I think I am now officially addicted to solo traveling.

I really enjoyed the time I had alone. Seriously. I enjoyed the intellectual banter I had, with myself, inside my mind. Sounds crazy, but more often than not, for someone like me, I rarely get to talk to myself, and it actually feels nice. I really love these introspective moments, which I really rarely get back at home.

The interesting thing about traveling solo is that you are never really alone. People talk to you, people tell you stories, people feel less vulnerable and actually open up so much more when they meet a solo traveler. Its like, I feel so much more connected to the world, to other people.

People travel for all sorts of reasons, and everyone has a different goal they are trying to achieve. I’ve met American history professors in Florence who were there to study and teach Renaissance art, an elderly man who flew from Canada to Florence to visit his ailing mother in law, a Singaporean traveling solo for his grad trip, to name a few. Maybe many of us travel because you want to see the world, but what I have realized is that yeah, sure, you travel to a certain place to see what you want to see, but the journey there can be full of surprises as well!

Seriously, I cannot wait to do this again! And, among the few dreams I tried to do on this trip, I finally fulfilled the childhood dream of seeing tulip fields in Amsterdam! smile emoticon20160501-DSC_6567

#32- What does home mean?

Waiting for my next flight back to Singapore. I always feel like I have so much more I want to do whenever I am about to leave a city. Arghhhh

I visited China and Hong Kong the last few days. The time in China was mainly to visit my grandparents as they decided to move back there a couple of years ago when they decided that it made more sense for them to be back at where they truly belong when the time came for them to go.

Which got me thinking, what is home? Where do I truly belong?

Many of us are global citizens today, and connectivity has revolutionized the concept of home for everyone. We are definitely way more mobile today than our grandparents and parents used to be. Inter-racial and cross-cultural marriages are so common these days.

I was born in Hong Kong. In case you are curious, my life story goes like this:

My parents were both from China. My maternal grandfather and my dad met on a boat which supposedly took them to Hong Kong back in 1980s, when my dad was barely 18. At that point, my mum was already in Hong Kong. My grandfather basically thought my dad was pretty cool and introduced him to my mum, and then of course, love blossomed, and there you go, I was born a couple of years later.

I spent my first 3 years in Hong Kong, studied in a local kindergarden, and lived at one of the poorer areas in Hong Kong, where houses were made of wood. However, during those times, the sense of community was so strong, and that is something I’d never forget even until today.

Thereafter, my dad, being the head pastry chef of a global hotel chain, got relocated to Singapore. That’s where I moved to SG for 2 years, and went to pre-school there. When I was 6, we moved back to Hong Kong again. I was enrolled into the Singapore International School. Until today, I still have fond memories of some of my classmates back then, and some interesting bits about life back then. Here they are:

#1- We used to live in Chai Wan, and I was always the last to alight from the school bus. As the school used to built atop a hill, I used to puke my way through the entire journey.

#2- I was recruited into the drama club because my cheeks had a natural blush, and I remember starring in a play where I played the role of a doll in a toy shop. I vaguely recall that the dolls come alive at night and I was one of them.

#3- My other extra-ciricular activity was the band. I used to play the xylophone, but I totally cannot recall any bit of this now.

#4- My bestie in Primary one was a Japanese girl, whose name I cannot even recall now. Maybe that explains why the fascination with Japanese culture and language?

When I was 7, we moved to Singapore again, and since then, I have never left the country for any extended period apart from my short stint in Japan when I did summer school there.

Today, I have really good friends all over the world, and I know they are more than happy to host me whenever I visit. A lot of these places feel like home to me, and I am starting to question what the notion of home entails.

Hong Kong feels familiar, Singapore is where I was brought up. I cant decide which one of them is home. Due to my amazing friends in the US, certain states like Seattle and New Jersey makes me really at home too. Is it the people who make home for what it feels like? Or is it just by virtue where you are born and raised?

Home is where the heart belongs. But, what if your heart belongs everywhere?

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On a side note, I explored a different side of HK this time round, and I think it is super super cool. I am falling in love with the city again. HK is full of surprises. 

#31- Love thy imperfections in life

Sometimes life happens. It just happens. You don’t know why, how or what, but it happens. I think everyone has been through this at some point in time. When you least expect things, it happens. If you are one of those where you are able to keep yourself on track, and keep to the path you think is best for you, then kudos to you.

Unfortunately or maybe luckily, I’m one of those who gets distracted easily, and let life happen. I love the element of surprise. That keeps me on my toes and excited. These emotions make me feel alive.

My ideal life isn’t about that high paying job, or that perfect significant other, but rather, the imperfections in life. Every family is dysfunctional in its own way or another, but I love every bit of my family. Work is tough and demanding, but the constant flow of challenges keeps me happy and mentally stimulated. Not every Friend is perfect, but there are those that love you to bits, and you just know it.

To really love life entails loving the imperfections as well. Even self love is about accepting every part of yourself, both the good and the bad. And honestly, cliche as it may sound, if someone loves you for both your good and bad, then this person is a keeper, and family definitely falls in this category. Love is unconditional, and first, start by doing that with yourself first!DSC_0503-1

Enjoy the imperfections and let life surprise you! smile emoticon

Xoxo

#30 Life goes on

Happy Lunar New Year! Finally got some time to reflect on life again.

Its been a hectic few months. Life is slowly falling into a routine, and responsibilities both at work and at home have been growing. Routine is a double-edged sword; it makes you really comfortable and provides you with stability on one hand, but makes life seem mundane on the other.

Stability makes it easier for one to make plans for the future, both financially and emotionally. However, sometimes the unknown bits of life is what makes life exciting. This is exactly why I think skydiving is one of the most exciting experience ever. That adrenaline rush from free falling, the amazing view from the top of the world, that fear when sitting at the edge of the plane, each of these remind me how amazing life is, and how I should be grateful to be alive.

Sometimes life leaves me completely surprised and confused, and I really have absolutely no idea what to make of it. Chance encounters, getting reacquainted with people whom you have known all the while, making spontaneous decisions, all these surprises thwart stability in your life. I am really looking forward to see what life has prepared in store for me. Cannot wait for my next journey in Spring!

Meanwhile, let me first indulge in the beautiful sunsets in SEA, before I get to see the ones in Europe in Spring! 🙂

Wishing everyone an amazing year ahead!

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xoxo

 

#28-2015, The Most Amazing Year Ever

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Spent the entire day sorting out travel pictures and my thoughts, at the same time preparing for my next trip, which is in about 5 hours time.

2015 has been an amazing year. I have no idea where to start. The year started off with a major heartbreak. The agony and pain that I have had to deal with was way more intensive than I had imagined, but on the other hand, this also meant that I had loved. I am glad that I had the opportunity to do that. Being in love meant that I had to leave myself vulnerable, and I think I have not regretted doing that, not one bit, for I have learnt so much more and became a much better person.

Learning to deal with the pain exposed me to another form of love, i.e, self-love. To date, I am still not too sure what it really means, but by my definition it would be the state of being at ease spending time with the most awesome person on earth, me! Learning to find the path to happiness on my own was a different game altogether, and I embarked on this journey filled with doubts and uncertainties. Nonetheless, a life filled with uncertainty is one that is exciting, especially so for someone as inquisitive as I am.

Mid 2015, as I was picking myself up slowly from the heartbreak, I was dealt with another blow. Losing my job. The financial and emotional uncertainties plagued me for a couple of days, until one day, where I woke up and decided to take the chance to do something I’ve always wanted to do but never had the balls to, and that is solo travel. So there I was, booking my first one way ticket to another country, without any plans or return date. Ironically, it felt amazingly therapeutic. Not having to adhere to timelines, schedules, compromising to the needs of others, getting lost, being on random ferries to random offshore islands, experiencing all the firsts in my life etc, these adventures actually made me feel really at ease with myself. Traveling on my own made me learn so much more about myself, and gave me time away from the crazy city life in Singapore to rethink so many things.

In those months, I traveled to places I’ve always wanted to go to, and revisited places which I had avoided so as not to expose myself to the memories that I was trying so hard to bury. Gathering the strength to face up to these memories, and creating new ones on my own gave me a new resolute to live my life so that I do not regret at my deathbed, so that one day, I have stories to tell my children and grandchildren, and to inspire them to live their lives for all that it is worth in the future.

Traveling made me appreciate so many things in life that I have been taking for granted, especially the people. 2015 is really the year where I learn to be thankful from the bottom of my heart.

1. My Family – Thankful for an amazing family that has accommodated my sporadic trips, been there for me all the time, made me feel so much warmth in my heart even though I took you guys for granted for so many years prior.

2. My Friends – I do not even know where to start. Some of you joined me for parts of my journey, some of you sat through my grouses, some of you were there for me whenever I was down, some of you hosted me when I traveled to your city, some of you made the effort to meet me wherever I was traveling to, some of you became friends with me during my journeys, etc.  I am really thankful for each and every one of you. Believe me, every one of you made a difference to me.

3. My Colleagues – You guys made life so much more amazing and interesting for me. All the late night drinks, dinner, partying, heart to heart chats, I am so so thankful for you guys!

2015 has been the most amazing year ever. I am actually really thankful for everything that has happened to me this year, and yes, that includes the heartbreak. Life is actually really meaningful, and it largely depends on what you make of it.

Really looking forward to 2016, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for me!

Have no expectations, and let life take you to happiness and awesomeness!

P.S. One of the most amazing experiences this year (in this lifetime), was watching the northern lights in all its glory in Iceland. Hence this photo! 🙂

#27-What happiness really means

Sometimes having absolutely no expectations works in amazing ways. I love the element of surprise, and because I have no expectations, I end up being pleasantly surprised. Letting go of all judgments allows us to see people or events before for what it really is. That is really the most amazing feeling,ever.

Just got back from the festivities from the Union of two really amazing people, who have made huge differences to me; and I have to say, it feels really amazing to see people around you basked in joy. It makes me really happy to see those around me happy.

Happiness is not an end state, it is a state that you choose to be in, there and then. Life is filled with constant ups and downs, and that constant moving between the emotional states actually account for the true meaning behind what life is. Learning to enjoy and appreciate these changes is an art that I’m still trying to grasp. I won’t say I like sadness, but I believe that the downs are there to remind you not to take things for granted, and that life is full of uncertainty.

Being the usually inquisitive me, I start questioning what happiness entails. Is it making that extra money? Or finding that special person? Or is it simply sharing the happiness with those around me? It seems that nobody has a definite answer, but for now, I choose to remain comfortably lost, sharing in the joy of those around me, and genuinely being happy because those around me are happy.

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#26- A Change in Perspective…

Life is a lot about perspective. A change of perspective goes a really long way. This principle can be applied in every aspect of your life, and more often than not, helps you get out of the rut or the dilemmas that you are facing.

If you choose to see events as positive, then it is something positive, because that is your perspective of it, and it is in effect a “unique relationship” between you and the event that nobody can take away from you.

Positivity takes you to better places. Negativity, on the other hand, drags you down into the deep abyss of the unknown, and with negativity, you just get increasingly negative, and not forgetting, you draw negative vibes towards you.

As we approach the end of 2015, I am now taking the time to reflect on how much I have grown in the last year, and what I am thankful for from the past year. Even though I still feel like I am searching for something in life which at this moment, I still haven’t gotten any clarity on what it exactly is. Until then, I guess I will have to just keep doing things that make me happy, and love life in a positive manner. Looking forward to more travels and learning more lessons in 2016.

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*Photo taken over sunset at the amazing glacial lagoon in Iceland.

Xoxo

#25- My Photobook- “Wanderlust”

Back in 2013, I made a photobook based off my travels up to that point in time, where I was in an entirely different state of mind. This was when I first started traveling in my bid to do some soul-searching as I entered into a phase in life where I was completely confused and direction-less. I did the bulk of these with friends. I was more focused on checking places off the list, rather than being introspective.

In 2015, I have had the opportunity to travel to so many more places, and meet so many more new people, solo. Almost all of my trips were solo, and it really gave me heaps of insights into the biggest mystery of all time, me.

With the new insights, I am inspired to create another version for 2015!

Meanwhile, sharing this version from 2013. 🙂

My Book -wanderlust

Some tips on Chasing the Aurora

Ever since I got back from my Scandinavian trip, people have been asking me for tips on catching the Northern lights, so here I am! This post is dedicated to those who are planning a trip to catch the northern lights. Hopefully it is helpful! 🙂

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*Disclaimer*: The Northern lights are really elusive, and there is no way anyone can guarantee that you will see the lights. However, you can increase your chances by being in the right place at the right time.

To find out more about what the northern lights are about, click on the following link!

What are Northern Lights?

There are 2 major conditions for the Northern lights to be visible to the naked eye.

  1. The sky must be cloudless. (or at least, most of the sky should be clear)
  2. You should be at a location that is completely dark and free of light pollution, including moonlight. Take note of the sunset timings before you plan your aurora hunt, so you can plan your meals around it, and maximise the stuffs you do during daylight. Although it is possible for you to see the lights in the city on nights where the aurora is really strong, this is kinda rare. (I think on the night I saw it, it was visible in the Reykyavik!)  Basically, your chances of seeing the lights are pretty high when you see a clear starry sky without any moonlight.

Where to see them? 

As the name implies, you technically have higher chances of seeing the Northern lights as long as you are in the Northern hemisphere. The further up north you are, the higher your chances are. Personally, I have tried catching the lights on two separate trips, once in Finland for 6 consecutive nights, and another time in Iceland. In Finland, I did not see the lights at all with my naked eye, even though my camera captured a few faint streaks of it in the sky. If you have read up about the lights, you will know that the lights are always there, its just a matter of whether you see it with your naked eye or not.

When I was in the Finnish lapland during mid winter, the constant snowing prevented me from getting clear, cloudless skies. Even though the clouds did clear up on one of the nights, the full moon basically overpowered the lights. It was always one thing or the other that prevented me from catching the lights when I was in lapland.

One tip I have for people is to go to the Artic North not just for the northern lights, but rather, for the destination itself! The lights are just way too elusive, and there is no way anyone can guarantee that it will appear. Even without the lights, there is every reason to appreciate the Finnish lapland.

During my trip to Finland, I got to try all the winter sports that I have never had the chance to such as snowboarding, husky sledding, riding the snow mobile, reindeer sledding, and staying in the famous  Glass Igloo village Kaklausttanen for a night, just to name a few. Every one of these experiences were super amazing, and even if you were just simply walking in the village, the view around you was just breathtaking.

How to prepare for chasing the lights?

Be prepared to be standing in the cold, facing wind chill temperatures that are sub zero (depending on when you go). Make sure you are dressed appropriately and be ready for the wind. If you are into photography, prepare your wide-angle lenses, camera, a strong tripod, and your remote control. This setup would allow you to have some time to enjoy the lights when you are leaving the shutter open during long exposures.

Start following the weather forecasts once you arrive. The Icelandic meteorological office has a really accurate website that will be your best friend when you hunt for the aurora in Iceland. When I visited Finland, I hired guides to take me out every single night (and it wasn’t cheap!)  as I did not want to drive in the snow at night, so I did not really have to follow the weather forecasts. If you are trying to catch auroras in Finland, this is a useful website that provides weather forecasts in Finland. Auroras in Finland

Here are a few sites/apps that I religiously checked multiple times each day during my time in Iceland.

#1 Vedar Aurora Forecast

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This is a super amazing website because the cloud cover forecasts are very accurate. The panel on the right side of the page gives you the aurora forecast, which is an indication of how strong the auroras will potentially be for that night. The website gets updated daily at 6pm, so I would suggest you look at this before you head out because cloud conditions might change. Considering how Iceland’s weather is always so unpredictable and erratic, I think this app is really amazing.

On the first night that we caught the aurora, it was at Grade 6. All we did was drive in the direction of the “white” portions indicated on the map,  and we saw the lights! 🙂 

#2 App: Aurora Forecast

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An app that provides you with all the professional data which you need to see the northern lights. Very comprehensive information on the northern lights (and southern lights!) as a whole. It also tells you the possibility of seeing the lights with your naked eye based on your current location.

#3 App: More than Aurora

A crowd sourcing app where you can be notified of aurora sightings based on sightings by other users around you. All you have to do is to place a marker stating that you are trying to hunt for the aurora at a certain site, and you get notifications when users around you see it. Only problem with it is probably people can use the app anywhere, and when we were there, we saw a pin from someone in Bangkok saying that they saw the lights there? Apart from this, I thought this was a pretty cool idea.

#4 App: Aurora Alert

This app basically tells you whether it is possible to see the aurora based on your location. Of course, this does not take into account the weather conditions such as cloud cover, moonlight, etc.

One other tip that I have would be to follow all the aurora hunters or photography sites by various photographers in the Artic circle, as it would give you a sense of where the lights typically appear. In my case, following the photographers from Iceland on Instagram and Facebook made me realise that Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon was a common spot for sighting the aurora. We decided to head to the lagoon after dinner to try and wait for it, and we were rewarded the moment we stepped out of the restaurant.

My experience

After having a few days of crazy erratic cloudy and rainy weather, I was really excited to see that we were getting the ideal conditions to see the Aurora based on Vedar’s prediction. After dinner, we walked out of the restaurant, and as we looked up, we saw a tiny streak of green light. Initially, we were not sure if it was the lights or just clouds illuminated by city lights. However, within 5 seconds, the streak got stronger, and grew into 2 streaks! One of our friends who had seen the lights before confirmed that this was probably it, and the rest of us started getting crazy excited. As we drove towards the lagoon, we stopped at a random dark spot and stayed there for 30 minutes when the sky began to be filled by various streaks of lights. The lights put on a really beautiful show for us. From 2 streaks, it became 5 streaks, and before long, it was directly above us! It was a crazy amazing experience, and the 4 of us were just screaming in awe the entire time, hugging and jumping in joy!

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This is a picture I took when we stopped randomly by the road as the entire sky got transformed into green! You can see cars driving toward us because we literally stopped at a random parking lot in the middle of nowhere.

After this, we drove on to Jokulsarlon where we were in the afternoon, and I have to say the place itself is CRAZY PRETTY in the day as well. We spent a good 40 minutes just watching the sunset in the day.

This is a not so typical shot but one of my favourite from the lot.

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When we finally got to Jokulsarlon after dinner, we were greeted by a spectacular show put on by mother nature. It was crazy crazy amazing. At one point, the entire sky was engulfed in a sea of eerie green lights. It was really intense, and nothing could contain our excitement when we saw the lights. The lights danced, changed in shape, and the brightness level waxed and waned continuously. We were literally turning left and right the whole time because a super strong green streak might just disappear before it comes back on 5 minutes later in the form of 5 streaks in another direction, and the sky can become completely dark the next moment.

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We watched the lights from 6-9 pm before deciding to drive towards our accommodation in Hofn. The lights were so crazy that even the locals told us that they have never seen it this strong.

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On the second night, we headed out at 6pm and drove towards the “white patches” based on the forecast. On this night, the aurora forecast was grade 4. We drove out of the city where we were, and kept our eyes peeled on the skies, having had experience the previous night. The skies were just overcast with clouds, and we were prepared to give up when the clouds suddenly cleared up, and streaks began appearing in the sky. We stopped the car in the middle of some random street off the main road, and mother nature began rewarding us with another beautiful lightshow. It definitely paled in comparison in terms of strength compared to the previous night, but it was still a spectacular display.

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I will add in more photos and updates when I get more time to look through the rest of my photos.

DSC_1241-1The above are just based off my personal experience, and I hope it helps you with your planning! 🙂