When I was studying in Singapore (Primary 3), I would love visiting my great uncle Chee. I was always fascinated how he had such a strong command of the English language like my dad. Back then, I still had a Singlish accent ^.^
Walking along the bungalow terrace, I was captivated as he would speak with sage wisdom. Always, without fail, he would give me a gift before I left his house. A book. At that age, I was reading slightly above my age, but nothing spectacular.
The books he would give me would range from Kungfu to Politics. I would struggle to read them because they were rather theoretical and consequentially dense, but I knew he would ask me if I read it and what I thought of them. The next time I saw him, I would have some form of an answer ready. It was not the greatest, mind you, but an answer nonetheless. He probably pushed my reading level better than anyone. The questions he asked I didn't understand, they went way over the head of an 8 year old kid. In an effort to not feel stupid, I'd have to ask him to explain what he meant in numerous ways before I got it. His love of reading and curiosity ended up being passed onto me.
Uncle Chee was a journalist. The books he gave me have vanished with the uncountable moves, but the impact he's had on my life is immeasurable.
By grade 5, my favorite book was Bitter Grounds, a 500+ page beast of a historical fiction novel. My parents restricted me from TV as much as possible, so each library visit was like bonus stockpiling in my war against boredom.
I used to love reading. In fact, in many ways, I still do. Though my reading preferences have changed over the years, you can still occasionally catch a glimpse of me running around Vancouver with a book in my hand. Thanks Uncle Chee :)
1. ALWAYS be grateful for EVERYTHING you have. (Cambodia)
After hearing about the tourist traps and witnessing people beg and lie to me to make a living, it seemed like anything goes. Most of the locals were making $50-100USD per month. That's less than $2/day. Yet Cambodians seemed to be the happiest people on Earth, in the simplest living conditions. Limited hot water and electricity in some places made even the worst conditions in Vancouver seem like a fairy tale.
Sinac, my Tuk-Tuk driver for a day, showed so much appreciation and joy from GETTING to work, I was extremely humbled. Could you imagine being that appreciative of where you're at, wherever you're at?
2. Work your ass off and never settle for being mediocre. (Philippines)
While I was enjoying what seemed like luxury because of the currency exchange differences, I also realized the huge opportunity in earning capacity back home. Though life seemed simpler in Manila, it's also a lot harder. With long days and long hours, brutal pollution and working conditions, Canadian employers seemed like guardian angels.
... Yeah, you're right. Maybe that's going too far. But putting my head down and going to work seems like a mighty fine idea.
3. In unknown territory, go explore. (Thailand)
The best feeling in the world wasn't getting lost in Bangkok for 10 hours and absorbing everything the city had to offer. It was unexpectedly finding my way back home after that. Not only did I see tons, but it felt amazing discovering familiarity. There's nothing quite like activating your internal GPS and independence and rushing off on an adventure.
I went through an emotional roller coaster of feeling exhausted, grumpy and judged to feeling confident, exhilarated and at home in the span of the day. I wouldn't trade those tougher emotions for anything else. In facing them, I grew immensely.
Oh, and if I didn't go explore, I probably wouldn't have had the best meal of my life. (LINK)
4. Writing is the best outlet for clarity. (China)
Want the cheapest and most uplifting cure to stress and worry? It's writing.
Because I was traveling by myself for the majority of my trip; I often had a lot of time alone with my thoughts. Personal questions about work, relationships, and life constantly barraged my conscious mind and in effort to maintain my sanity, I would write to clear the air. Sometimes I didn't have any answers, but I would just jot down questions. As the day passed, I would monitor my thoughts and find probable answers. Ranging from mildly retarded to highly genius, I would constantly be throwing poor ideas out and storing the better ones for later use. Creativity soared as I searched for better ways to describe or invent stories. Reading other books was great too, not only to increase knowledge about new topics but also to explore different forms of prose.
5. There's always a party. (Vietnam)
Singing and dancing like no one else is watching is the funnest thing I know to do. Completely disregarding judgement, I found that I could pick my mood up instantly by singing dumb ass songs or bobbing my head on a train. It's cool to be different. Trust me, everyone else on the MRT was jealous I was having more fun than they were.
Self-talk played a huge part in keeping myself company as well, as I entertained and chased laughter in self-amusement. In gloomier moods, I would begin talking out loud to myself and narrating play-by-plays. Nothing better for attitude management.
6. Asking for advice is the quickest route to success. (Singapore)
Everybody has different problems in life. The good news is that my relatives have gone through most of my problems already. It turns out that the dilemmas that I'm currently dealing with seem trivial compared to the stuff they've dealt with. Got relationship problems? Family issues? Strapped for cash? Career in suspense?
It's not that bad.
In one instance, I spent 5 hours listening to how my aunt raised my cousins. I found out what the hardest thing was for her and how she balanced raising kids as a mom with her work as a professional. Without sharing my problems, I just asked her what obstacles and challenges she overcame and then I shut up and listened.
Because she had raised such amazing kids, I knew her advice was solid. Through her perspective, I was better fit to deal with my own life. I find that more people are willing to give advice than to take it. Shoot, give it to me! I'll take it all!
Through this trip, I learnt to follow examples of success in problem areas and ask how to emulate it. It's not often you get to mentor someone younger, and when you do, most people jump at the chance to instill wisdom.
Turning this to you, what lessons have you learnt from traveling?
PS. When traveling, you're never really alone ;)
When I landed back in Vancouver last week, I was coming off the laziest trip ever.
That included 40 days and 40 nights of waking up, adventuring through a random Asian country for 10-12 hours, while eating the best food ALL the time. There was no exercise, not much work, and not much reading (though I did read Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. However, I did write a ton and create extremely positive relationships with everybody back home in Singapore.
Being back, I struggled with my schedule for almost a week. Struggling with personal maintenance, I wasn’t doing all the things I knew I needed to do. Of course, my self-esteem shot down, knowing that I was continuing down my lazy path. By Saturday night, I realized I had to get it together, so I decided to start by controlling my bookends.
Controlling the bookends
Controlling the bookends is a great concept that I learnt from… (I forget who), but here’s the concept.
We generally have no idea what is going to happen throughout the majority of our day (8:00am to 8:00pm). Therefore, to maintain control and balance, you control the things you do right after you wake up and the things you do right before you go to sleep.
While we have different priorities, here’s what my morning and evenings look like.
The Morning (5:00am-8:00am)
When the alarm goes off, the mental requirement I have is that before I can shut it off, I have to get out of the bed and be on the floor. The thought “Just get it over with” helps a lot. Here’s what the routine looks like so far.
The Evening (9:00pm – 10:00pm)
Do you like to relax in the evenings? Here’s how I unwind from the day.
If you’re just getting started, slowly add in 1 thing a day, while pushing your wake-up time earlier and earlier as you fill it with activities. As long as you get 7 hours of sleep, you’re good. ;) If I'm heading out for the night with friends, then the night schedule adapts accordingly to what time I get back. I might just head straight to bed when I get home past 2:00am.
Setting up this simple schedule results in 5 HOURS of productivity and personal fulfillment! So, there’s 1 simple tip to not only waking up with purpose, but also finishing your day with purpose: CONTROL YOUR BOOKENDS! =D
Play around with it and let me know how it goes!
We were deep into the lush forest. Electricity was absent from the wooden huts that made up the resident's dwelling. Everything was ruled by nature here. Fires smoked the air as the locals burned piles of paper. Not exactly the best clean air practice, but if you headed a bit further into the middle of nowhere, away from it all, you could inhale and fill your lungs with the purest air possible.
We were about 3 hours into our hike through Bantad, having just walked along the Ifugao Rice Terraces, a UNESCO Heritage Site. The simplistic beauty of the land set the tone for a day of good exercise and good company.
Eric, our tour guide, was a local Batad resident and made this trek regularly as his job. Ella and Inbal were cousins, Israeli tourists who had decided that the Philippines would be a better destination than Thailand.
We continued pushing ourselves up and down steps, around different sides of the mountain, til we heard it: the constant whoosh of the waterfall.
In our excitement of freedom, Jeff and I ran down to the rocks to go swim. Water effortlessly free-falled off the cliff and collided with the emerald-teal surface, creating bubbling waves. Standing in the water looking up, the mist seemed to be suspended in the air in slow motion. Truly cool refreshment.
In the moment, I let out a triumphant roar. The sweat, the aches and the heat were all worth it.
An oasis paradise far from civilization, so beautiful it was humbling.
In the land of machetes and shotguns, God was still king.
The Republic of Philippines
I couldn't breathe.
Weight was pressing against me from all sides and things were jamming into the most inappropriate places.
I looked over the sea of people and grinned at Jeff. This was awesome.
'I've never felt so close to so many people at once!'
Half an hour before, I had landed in Manila. After hopping on a bus, Jeff and I were now part of the human sandwich that was the public MRT.
People aggressively pushed their way in to pack each carriage, there was no space between me and anyone else.
'Haha, welcome to Manila baby!' Jeff laughed.
Since I hadn't eaten yet, our first stop was SM Mega Mall. We then spent the next three hours devouring as much food as possible, no stall vendor was a stranger after that. From pork skewers to sisig (pig's ear) to puto (Filipino dessert), I was in heaven. There was so much good food!
As Jeff and I strolled through the mall, we caught up on each other's trips. Jeff was making his way though Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Korea and Taiwan, over the course of 2 months. He had climbed Mt. Fuji and had relaxed on the beaches of Boracay.
We met up with his cousins afterwards and hung out for a bit before heading home.
'There's no hot water here, and you have to dump a bucket of water to flush the toilet,' Jeff informed me. 'I hope you're okay with that.'
'Nice! It's still that way in some parts of Singapore, no sweat man.' I was secretly looking forward to the cold water. With temperatures at a humid 32 degrees, it was hard to want a hot shower.
I was spent.
After being on the road for 3+ weeks, I didn't want to go anywhere, so I lay in bed until 10:00am. This was quite the contrast with my track record so far, as I've been hitting the road by 6:00am consistently every day, sometimes even earlier to get a full days worth in a city. The cool A/C invited me to remain there all day.
Shaking my head, I rush to get out of my guesthouse as soon as possible, knowing that every minute longer spent there was an extra bar being placed in the cell that was my room.
Feeling particularly unsocial and unexcited about the day, I decide that it'd be best to finish this trip strong and go hard for the last two days before I head back to Singapore. Getting excited about the trip to the Philippines, I reprimand myself and remind myself to stay content in the present.
This writing thing has probably kept me sane amidst the solitude of this journey. Being honest with myself has been so important. A lot of people mention that their travels change them, but I feel like I'm still the same person. I do feel an increased awareness of my reactions to events, whether it's impatience, excitement or a plethora of other available options.
As I look up from my laptop and my fruit salad, I see that the heavens have opened up their floodgates. As the streets rise up with water, I think to myself, 'Today is definitely going to be fun.'
The trip dives into worlds of social enterprise and love, wars and princes. I start my day by shooting an AK-47 at a shooting range. Having never done it before, I figure why not, it's not like it's an everyday thing back in Canada. Halfway into it, I become increasingly unnerved by the power and impact of each shot.
During a somber visit to S21 and the Killing Fields, I reflect on how much pain the Cambodians have gone through but also remain confused at the prospect of them making money off the shooting range. The eerie walls of S21 are lined with portraits of victims and their autobiographies. It strikes a chord, and I leave, shuddering at the thought of the mass killings. I wouldn't want to be anywhere close to a gun after having my people go through the Khmer Rouge regime. I get that it's tough, with the average citizen earning between $50-100USD per month, but really? Rocket launchers and bazookas, machine guns and armed rifles, they all seem to take away from the severity of it all.
The day lightens up with dinner with an old friend and coworker of mine. The last time I saw him was in 2009 in Toronto, and here we were. Natural maturity comes with the territory of aging, as he prepares for a wedding and sets his roots in Cambodia. Wow.
These snapshots continue to pile up. Bella, the girl from Kent, who hates her PR job in Hong Kong and is moving here to teach. Brent, the Australian who migrated to Siem Reap to open a bar. Emma from London, England, the advertising department for Universal Pictures. Her boyfriend from London, ON, Joey, the artsy type. Austin, the American who looks like he's 15 years old as he takes a long draw from a cigarette.
I like this, the fleeting connections and the quick goodbyes, the mutual moments of silence as we relate to one another. All on our own journeys with so many different curves and unexpected turns.
I lean back in my 3-legged chair, take a sip of the freshly-squeezed guava juice in front of me, and breathe deep. I'm missing the girl I wish I could see it all with.
I meet Ken and Lynn at Mo Chit Terminal 2. I've been approaching everyone that seems interesting and talking to them. It turns out that Ken is from none other than Fort Langley. Hot damn! The Saturday before I left for Asia, we took a stroll right by his house and here we both were, in a random bus terminal. The world's a small place.
The bus to Siem Reap starts off on time and chugs along the highway, our A/C turned on high. Then all of a sudden, it just stops and flat out dies. I glance at the time... it's only been an hour and a half.
Eventually we get going again, everybody joking about how we might not make it. The bus pulls into a building with a cheap sign that says Cambodia Visa Entry. Everybody on the bus is told to disembark and do their visa here. We all ignore them and stand outside, most tourists having a quick smoke. After two hours at the border and immigration, everybody finally gets through and we proceed to Siem Reap!
Pub Street in Siem Reap proves to be calm, yet alive road with bars and restaurants. Although the national currency is the Cambodian Riel, everything is priced in USD here. Definitely tourist central. With massages at $5/hr, whole coconuts at $1, and all day tuk-Tuks at $12/day, who would ever want to leave?
I grab grill seared lamb for dinner at a local restaurant and cruise the streets. Life is good.
After a week of family reuniting and no productivity in Singapore, it feels good to be back in the notepad.
HAHA! DJ Quik's Get Down starts my flight to Bangkok. I don't normally listen to music when I'm traveling to a new place alone so I can soak in the atmosphere. The plane was relatively empty, the passengers next to me moved because they had a baby and needed more space. The end result was that I didn't have anyone to talk to and scored a whole row for myself.
An hour later, we go through a period of intense turbulence.
The plane drops and your stomach lurches forward with it, until it picks you back up to throw you down.
It's a funny thing, flying 30,000m above ground and not sure if you're going to make it through the flight. I used to be scared of my plane crashing, but I'm at peace with the possibility now. It's not like I want to die. In fact, I'm quite the opposite, because let's be honest, I have an extremely blessed life and would love to live until I'm 100 and still kicking.
I feel like I'm living my life to its utmost and if God calls, it's not really controllable on my part. I know that my mom, Teresa and Neil know I love them deeply from the bottom of my heart. Traveling so often has it's risks, but I don't think they're very high. Car accidents are more frequent, aren't they?
Anyways. When I was a kid, I used to be scared of roller coasters. My remedy was a bit different. I would pop in my earphones and play one song on repeat: Empire by the Black Eyed Peas. This was the case at Universal Studios, Disneyland, Six Flags, and Disneyworld all through high school. I would get so hyped up that I would ride the coaster's momentum up, down, and through the whole song, rushing any adrenaline through my entire body as if it was a race course.
It's easy to get scared of the unknown, but that's what makes life so freaking great, isn't it? Taking that fear and absolutely seizing it tight in your hands, while still apprehensive about what's about to happen.
The plane calms down and I look out the window to see a bright blue and clear landscape. Storms are great, and they're also temporary.
See? All good.
No visa required for Canadians, fast immigration process, cute little red and black tokens for the Skytrain. Keep it coming!
I get to my guesthouse at 1:30pm, just an hour after landing. Starving, I go look for food. The transit system here is extremely easy to use; there are 3 different lines I had to take though to get to my place, but all of them were connected. I grab Pad Thai by my place before heading in. The room is the size of my closet at home.
I love it.
Truth be told, today is the day of the whole trip I was looking forward to the most. Why? It's the first day I'm completely alone: no tour group, no family, different language, and a different environment.
After doing 5 minutes of research (how to get there), I leave my room and head off to Chatuchak Market.
It's absolute MADNESS. With 8,000 stalls, 31 acres of stuff to buy, and an infinite overload of sensory input, I last 5 hours before calling it quits and heading to the Victory Monument.
The next day, I head to the Grand Palace, Wat Arun and stroll along the River and in between market stalls along random narrow streets.
Then, I had found it.
The holy grail of Thai food.
I stumbled into a restaurant on the road for no other reason than the fact that it was air conditioned. Feeling like soup, I found a set meal with hot and sour soup, iced lemon tea, and fried rice.
The soup came first and I started to dig in immediately. It was mind-blowing.
To my chagrin, the waitress scolded me and waved her hands; she made it clear I should wait for the rice. Confused I agreed and put my spoon down, starving.
She arrived 5 minutes later with the rice, and then everything in the world made sense.
When I put the first spoon of rice into my mouth, angels sang from the kitchen. The flavor was incomparable. The green chillis in the soup were sliced down the center to kickstart the party. The Hot-and-Sour from the soup united with the Salty from the rice, and had a baby with the Sweet iced tea.
The prawns tango'd with the chicken while cilantro cleared the air. Three types of mushrooms in the soup chased each other across my palate, making waves of 'Close your eyes and savor it as long as you freaking can because these moments in food don't come often' stimulus. God had blessed this meal from heaven itself. The taste from the iced tea was inexplicable, it couldn't be just lemon. Maybe if lemon met crack cocaine and came from the overflowing crystal clear waterfalls on a magical mountain in Myanmar, far, far away. To finish the meal this way was...perfect.
It was absolutely unforgettable.
Best. Meal. Ever.
A blog on my continuing journey through life, covering self-development and success strategies, but also personal reflection.