Tibet

Colorful prayer flags. Centuries-old monasteries. Gigantic mountains. Himalayas. Mt. Everest. Religious indigenous folks. Monks. Secluded terrains. Vast amount of land. Intense sun. Chilling weather. High altitude sickness.

This is how I would summarize Tibet as – a place where you can see monasteries dating back to the 7th century, religious Tibetan Buddhists worshiping and chanting prayers, curious-looking kids with extremely rosy cheeks, yaks (Tibetan cows), furry street dogs and endless sights of beautiful Tibetan plateau.

In love with these colorful prayer flags everywhere

Tibet has been in my travel bucket list for many years when I saw a couple of my Chinese friends went there. I did an inquiry to a tour agent then. Unfortunately, at that time, due to travel restriction by the PRC government, I needed to have at least 5 people from the same nationality travelling in the same tour. I had no choice but to give up. Somehow for some reason, I did another inquiry to a few tour agents this year and all of them said there is no more such restriction! So it happened, my long- awaited travel destination.

There are still some restrictions when it comes to travelling in Tibet. You need to apply for a Tibet permit through a registered tour agency at Tibet Tourism Board and you must sign up for a tour with a local guide (meaning no backpacking on your own). So I signed up for an 8-day Mount Everest Base Camp Tour with Tibet Vista (www.tibettravel.org). I would not write extensively about the detailed itinerary. You can see the summary of the itinerary in this link:

http://www.tibettravel.org/tibet-everest-base-camp-tour/

Here, I would like to share some of the highlights from the trip and reasons why you should travel to Tibet.

First, from 3600m to 5248m, you get to see a land that is so vast, so plain with very few inhabitants. Speaking of people, Tibet only has slightly more than 3million population in their 1.2 million sqkm, naturally because most of their terrains are rugged and harsh. It made me wonder how the native people traveled in such difficulty in ancient times. It might have taken months and years to go across numerous mountains. 

Second, you get to witness well-preserved traditions of Buddhism and some of the unique practices at the monasteries, such as pilgrims prostrating on the floor to worship, offering butter in the temples and monks debating.

Monks debate session

Monks taking exam

Most of the monasteries are in white, black and red

An old man’s worship

What’s more, admire Mt Everest – from near and afar! And the rest of the Himalaya mountains of course.

We had a far view of Mt Everest at one of the viewpoints. There was a long windy road up to a mountain that was about 5200m high. It is amazing how these roads are constructed extensively to connect from place to place, which are by no means anywhere near each other.

After having passed through hundreds of mountains

Words can’t describe how beautiful it is at the top, looking back down at these snake-like roads against the backdrop of countless mountains in the vista.
After we passed the uphill slope to the topmost point and started going downhill on the other side of the mountain, a breathtaking view of white Himalayas mountains appeared. It almost felt unbelievable, to witness these beautiful mountains standing tall and magnificent on this part of the earth. They were simply gorgeous.

The Himalayas

After a really long ride, we arrived at the Mt Everest Base Camp. The weather was extreme; the temperature dropped below zero, the wind was stormy strong and the whole sky was dark and foggy. Regardless, we did what we had to do; take photos!

Even though there is Mt Everest right in front of us at that point, we could not see a thing due to the bad weather. We stayed at a guesthouse for the night which had minimal facility and made me shiver to bones. At about 9pm when the sun had completely set and the weather became clearer, we got a glimpse of Mt Everest from our guesthouse canteen! It would have been perfect if it were in the day time because we could see the formidable Everest real close even from the guesthouse. We also dropped by at the highest monastery in the world!

There was a tiny cave inside the monastery where a monk meditates

You will also have a chance to experience high altitude sickness. Almost everyone would get it more or less but it’s not so bad, really. For me personally, I had a bit of difficulty sleeping in the first few nights but I was fine throughout the day. The most disastrous of my sleep was at the Mt Everest Base Camp (5100m) where I could only sleep for about 3 hours and I ended up using the Oxygen tank every 20 minutes as I felt suffocated in the room and it was too cold to get out. The temperature was -6C which felt like -13C due to the wind.

Oxygen mask whole night. No joke

Our little guesthouse at the Base Camp

Tibetan yaks everywhere

Lastly, depending on the season of your travel, you may get to enjoy the beauty of an all-white mountainous scenery in Tibet. We were just a lucky bunch of travelers. Though we did not get to see a close view of Mt Everest due to snow, the weather in the next day was extremely wonderful! We dropped by at the Manla Reservoir which I must say was one of the most scenic spots in Tibet, the turquoise color Yamdrok Lake which stretches over 72km and the Karola Glacier which was all covered in snow at that time to add to its serene beauty.

Just some scenery along the way

Turquoise color Yamdrok Lake, one of the three holy lakes in Tibet

Tibetan yaks at Garola glacier

I did not have much knowledge about Tibet before this trip. Even as a Buddhist who is already familiar with the religion, it was intriguing to learn about the Tibetan Buddhism, monasteries, Dalai Lama reincarnation as well as get to know its culture and local people. Lastly, I’m glad I’ve taken the chance to cherish the exclusive wonders of nature Tibet has to offer.

The journey was more fun because of this group – from 8 different countries!

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The First Step

Be it kick-starting your workout regime or the diet plan, changing jobs or career, be it getting into a new relationship, moving to a new city or just simply starting to read a new book, the first step is always the most challenging.

I had a little recollection of my first-time bungee jumping from a 43m high bridge. This may be a bit dramatic analogy to what we usually experience in life but it’s a pretty close one.

I am someone who gets nausea at high altitude, especially at open space. Anything higher than 4 floors can make me go weak at the knees. Though I’ve always wanted to challenge my own fears, I was not exactly prepared to do the jump on that day. I and my travel buddies were just passing by the place and thought of taking a quick look since it’s on the way. Somehow, a little devil in my mind wanted me to jump and I sort of signed up on impulse.

My confidence level was really at rock bottom knowing myself how scared I am of heights. What if I pass out? What if the rope gets loose? What if I fall into the water down there instead? I looked straight in front; I noticed the scenery was beautifully serene. I looked right down; I saw the blue water flowing downstream. As I panicked, I gripped the wooden pillar beside me really tightly. I did not want to let go of it. It was my safety net. The deck I was standing on was my comfort zone. The facilitator behind me was my mental support. I did not want to leave any of these to jump off into the free fall – the fear of losing control.

Then again, I was under intense pressure because the facilitator said I was taking too long and that I’d have to go back if I did not jump right away. It was the final pushing force that made me go, “what the heck, I paid 250 dollars I’m jumping” and so I did, instantly.

Once I jumped, I realized all these worries I had were really baseless. These were just voices I made up in my own mental cell. I enjoyed the jump so much that if not for the steep price, I probably might have jumped again! The kind of accomplishment and exhilaration after the jump was priceless; it was absolutely rewarding.

Just like how I was on the jumping deck, many people get stuck in life because they never get out of their comfort zone or are willing to dive into a pool of uncertainties. Some tasks may be easier because there are fewer stakes in them. Others may seem more daunting to succeed.

I believe a rule of thumb is – Give 100% in everything you wish to succeed so that even if it fails, you know that you put your heart and soul to it and turn the failure into a learning point. As long as you don’t stupidly screw up, things will eventually fall into place. The only thing that matters is to take the first step or a leap of faith as some call it, and don’t doubt what you can achieve.

In the past, I’ve taken certain significant steps in life that have geared me to where I am today. The time when I decided to study business. The time when I decided to go to Singapore for uni. The time when I decided to come back and work in Myanmar. Now I am at another point in life where I wish to explore something new again but with much higher stakes. I hear a little bird inside me telling me that I definitely should go for it but well unless I start working on it, nothing is going to materialize.

To all who are also facing challenges in taking the first step to make your dreams come true, may the force be with you. 🙂

Journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. – Lao Tzu

 

Goodbye

Have you ever been so desperate? So hopeless that you have no other choice but to accept the truth and give up? Have you ever felt so heart-rending? So broken that you don’t even know how you’re supposed to feel anymore? All you felt was a fire burning all over, being consumed by a lot of “what-ifs” and “whys” only to realize that these were all useless thoughts.

That’s exactly how I felt when I lost my one and only sibling – my brother who is 3 years younger than me.

Some people say I look like my father and my brother resembles my mother, and some say vice versa. I can’t exactly tell which is more true but a lot of people say I and my brother look very much alike even though we are of different gender. One of my friends said, “Take your brother’s moustache and put it on you. You will become your brother.” May be. I didn’t try obviously.

A lot of distant relatives and friends would think that I’m the younger one because he looked much bigger than me and tougher in appearance. Probably also because of his crazy tattoos inked all over his body.

We spent most of our time away from each other. He had to leave the family when he was 11 to study abroad. By the time I went abroad to attend uni, he came back home. At some point later, he went abroad again to study but we weren’t staying at the same place. Time passed and we were apart for 11 years altogether.

By the time he left this world, it had only been five months that the entire 4 members of the family started living under the same roof. I came back home for good after staying in Singapore for 8 years. My brother also finished his diploma and decided to come back. We had great fun; we even went for a really rare family trip to a beach. Little had I known it would be the last time I’d be travelling with him. He was a happy jolly.

“Your tummy is getting bigger. It looks like that of a pregnant lady,” was the last thing I spoke to him. He turned back and smiled. For some reason, I noticed how he looked very amused upon hearing my comment. I’ll never forget that. “Take care, have a safe flight,” was the last thing I heard from him over the phone.

It’s obviously too late to say things like, “how i wish……” because these are only wishes now that I know will never come true. The more I think about it, the more unbearable it gets. Only when he’s gone, I realized how much I’ve taken him for granted. I thought I’d still have him calling me when I’m out and about late at night. I thought I’d still have someone who would make me supper or accompany me to some drinks. Only if…and only if only echoes regret and sorrow now.

It all happened so suddenly. It was a tough week but I quickly moved on. Soon after, I continued going for work, met up with friends and resumed my activities. My days seemed “just as usual”. Nothing changed. I used to stay independently most of the time anyway.

But no, not really. Everything has changed. Reality strikes once in awhile. Tears fall randomly. My heart aches at the permanent loss of one of the very few people I hold dear and truly care about. It is now only 3 of us, instead of 4. When I meet new people, I’ll have to tell them, “I used to have a brother.” “Used to” is a very heartbreaking word for me now that I doubt any amount of time can heal.

Death is unavoidable. Dear brother, I guess you are pretty lucky that you skipped all the cheap useless dramas in life and went straight to a better, more peaceful place. You are missed and you will stay in my heart forever. Forgive me for all the fights we got into.

Goodbye.

What It Feels Like to Go Solo

I was a non-believer of solo travelling. I could not imagine myself visiting a new place alone. What’s the point of travelling if there’s no one beside you to share the happiness with? What if there is an exciting forest adventure you want to participate but you have no one to talk to about it, wouldn’t it be sad?

Well, ironically enough, some chain of events had lead me to (and allowed me to) travel all by myself for a good two weeks. A two-week time frame is not a lot compared to months of travelling around the globe by those wanderlusts who head to wherever their hearts lead to. For me, this is already a supreme privilege as I’ve never taken more than one week off from work for three consecutive years. Sounds sick, doesn’t it?

I had a lot of countries in my wishlist but after several considerations, I decided to go to Taiwan for 10 days and Hong Kong for 4 days – both of which places I had never been to. And by the way, when I told my mother about my solo backpacking trip, she thought I was joking. Ha, so much for the encouragement.

The trip happened amidst the busiest time of my life and I didn’t manage to plan it properly. I bought my air tickets less than one week before my departure date and booked the accommodation 3 days prior. To top it off, my itinerary by the time I printed out was only about 60% complete – most of which was a direct copy from one of my friends’ itinerary.

I was absolutely exhausted both physically and mentally, and on the verge of a major freak-out or panick attack due to other changes happening in life. I was overwhelmed by an amalgam of emotions: excited, drained, happy, sad, scared, adventurous and so on. Nonetheless, I did what I could; I packed about 8kg of stuff in a backpack, collected some tourist brochures from the Taiwan Visitors Association Singapore and off I went.

In Taiwan, I visited Taipei (the bustling Capital with lots of shopping places and night markets), Wu Lai (where you could almost meditate while dipping in the authentic hot springs), Qing Jing (a cooling mountainous place where furry sheeps are found at their natural habitat),  Tai Chung (where the legendary Sun Moon Lake is located) and Hua Lien (where you can enjoy nature at its best). All these places were absolutely amazing and after the trip, Taiwan has become one of my most favourite places for travelling. I will not elaborate much on my itinerary here but share more on the memorable experiences as a solo traveller for the first time.

So these are some of the moments; simple but priceless to me.

  • The moment of trepidation and excitement when I decided to trek up a mountain alone without knowing what’s really ahead and no one else around. Of course the kind of achievement when I made it to the peak even though it was an easy trek.
  • The moment of curiosity when I stroke my first conversation with a stranger who turned out to be a nice person and later became a good friend
  • The moment of disappointment when I bought the wrong train ticket and had to stand in the train for a 1.5 hour long journey
  • The moment of gratitude when the lady sitting next to me on a train gave me a random gift and offered me her biscuits (which was one of the best I’ve ever tried! Pity I was too shy to ask the name of that snack because I knew for sure that she would give me her whole pack if she found out I liked it)
  • The moment of adventure when I cycled for 2.5 hours to a beach of which 1 hour was spent on getting lost in the city because all I had was a map in Chinese (and yes I don’t read Chinese)
  • The moment of being lost when a bus driver dropped me off on the highway when he realized I was on the wrong bus
  • The moment of fear when I heard dogs barking after me on a narrow mountain trail where no other humans were present (one of the dogs almost bit me and I thought to myself that could have been the end of me)
  • The moment of “extreme loneliness” when I fell sick, got weak, lost my appetite and had to run to a hospital
  • The moment of honor when the husband and wife who were managing a villa in the mountains were so exhilarated to learn that I was the first ever Burmese guest staying at their place
  • The moment of pride when a very unassuming old folk who was helping out at the same villa actually spoke of Aung San Suu Kyi once he knew I was from Myanmar (Oh yes she rocks!)
  • And the countless number of times the kind local people would take extra miles to help me out with directions. Indeed countless.
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It did not matter that there was nobody to take photos with; I still had lots of fun!

Most importantly, there are a few key takeaways from my little adventure:

Be spontaneous

Having lived in Singapore for almost 8 years, I realized I have been trapped in the routines and plans that I almost feel lost without my schedules. My phone calendar is full of remarks with to-do-list and appointments which I religiously follow. During the trip, with no fixed itinerary, I found myself very spontaneous and fluid in where I went or what I did. For instance, I took a 40-min bus ride to meet up with a friend from Singapore who also happened to be in Taipei and we had a good impromptu catch-up. I also met up with another friend in Hong Kong who was in town for a business trip.

When travelling solo, schedules only serve as a guide but you don’t need to get caught up in them. It’s okay if you spend too much time at the museum that you do not get to see the sunset at another place. It’s okay if you take the wrong train which takes you 2.5 hours instead of 45 mins. It’s okay if you miss out to see certain places because they are temporarily closed on that day. Best part is, you could get up at either 6am or at noon, who cares?

Face the Uncertainties

This trip was remarkably full of uncertainties for me; largely because I was alone and partly because I did not plan or research much beforehand. On top of that, I was travelling to Chinese speaking countries while my conversational Chinese was pretty basic but just enough to get myself out of difficult situations.

The whole plan could have turned into a nightmare but it turned out to be the  most wonderful trips I have ever taken! Things fell into place gradually. I read up on the Taiwan tourist brochures on the plane and noted down some questions to ask my hostel. I got a map of the train stations and cities. I asked for directions many times as I traveled along and I felt accomplished once I reached to my destination smoothly.

Feel the liberation

Well this part is a bit more philosophical. This is something that I believe other fellow solo travellers would be able to relate to. When you travel alone, you have plenty of “me time” and a lot of topics ceaselessly run through your mind. Ultimately, you feel liberated – free from worries, negative vibes and people who bring you down. You are at a place where no one knows you and you become aware of how different you are at the new place as compared to your daily life routine. You concede that you are just a tiny piece of living thing on this earth as you discover more places and talk to more people. And in a spark of thoughts, you realize there’s so much more to life than going after materialism and getting buried down by stress in your daily life.

I can’t thank myself more for having taken this solo trip. It has taught me to see the beauty of the world and the people. An achievement unlocked before I turned a quarter century old!

In my honest opinion, everyone should have travelled solo at least once in a lifetime while still young – especially women. In some societies where women’s roles are considered secondary to men, you may not feel as empowered or capable. Try a solo trip and be the captain of your own ship – know what’s it like to take charge of your own course of direction. To avoid danger, learn to be vigilant and smart while partially relying on your gut feels.

My small piece of advice to those who have not tried yet –

Pack your bag, choose a destination, prepare some cash and passport, and just go. Things will fall into place.

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At the end of my two-week solo adventure!

25 Things You Realize When You are at 25

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  1. Your bucket list gets longer and longer
  2. You feel time is never enough to do the things you wish to do
  3. You know when people are bullshitting you
  4. You can tell who are your friends and foes
  5. You become fearless
  6. You learn to let go and forgive
  7. You start to manage expectations both ways: the expectations others have on you and those that you have on others
  8. You start to see the good innate nature in people
  9. You appreciate every small little thing in life
  10. You care less about things that don’t really matter
  11. You stop bothering about what others think of you
  12. You get to discover who you really are and what you want
  13. You know exactly how to enjoy life
  14. You develop your own opinion for almost any topic and are brave enough to defend what you stand for
  15. You know when to speak up and when to shut up
  16. You are complete by yourself and your happiness does not depend on external circumstances or persons
  17. You know how to reach out to your inner peace and tranquility
  18. You stop comparing yourself to other people and being caught up in the vicious self-torment
  19. You know you are perfect just the way you are (not in the sense of narcissism) and people who love you will love you just because of that
  20. You are still probably wild and crazy at times but under control
  21. You spend time with people who are worthy of your precious time
  22. You become more critical and analytical
  23. You know how to protect yourself (at least emotionally)
  24. You genuinely feel grateful for your own past mistakes/failures and different colors of people you have encountered so far
  25. You realize life would be soul-less if not for the people around you

Cheers.

22/02/2016

Laugh a little louder. Smile a little brighter. Love a little harder.

Mt Kinabalu – A Memorable Road to the Peak

[Note: I visited Mt Kinabalu in April 2015. There was a magnitude of 6.0 earthquake at the mountain in June 2015 which tragically involved some casualties some of whom are school children. I would like to pay tribute to these lost souls who died while stretching their limits and going for greater heights. My deep condolences to the families and friends. The park is now closed as parts of the mountain were damaged.]

People say hiking can be addictive. They are damn right. I could not resist going for another hiking trip after my first one in October last year to Mt Bromo and Ijen Crater. In April this year, I set off to Mt Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia. I had a great team of travel buddies who were all hyped about the trip too.

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Four Ladies & a Gent 🙂

Being a dry season, April is during the peak season for avid hikers and we almost did not get slots as the Park Regulators issue fixed number of hiking passes a day. It is important you register your name, particulars and hiking dates via a travel agency a couple of months before.

There are two choices: a normal route and via ferrata. The latter is an en-route mountaineering activity during the descent and there are two more options under via ferrata itself: Walk the Torq or Low’s Peak Circuit. The former is an easier version at a lower altitude taking about additional 1.5-2hours of descending while the latter one is more challenging with additional 4-5 hours. Our group of 5 signed up for the via ferrata pass which is more expensive. The agency provided a private mountain guide, transport to and fro our accommodation and Mt Kinabalu Headquarters, one night accommodation in the mountain, food and hiking passes.

Day 1

The trip lasted for four days including two days of hiking. We left Singapore one day before the first hiking day and landed at Kota Kinabalu around 8pm. Since it was just to spend the night, we stayed at a private apartment. Surprisingly, it was a nice stay with some facilities like warm shower, towel, water kettle, TV and WiFi.

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Smile! Everybody’s happy!

Day 2

We got up early for the next day and waited for our tour driver to pick us up at our apartment. To our dismay, he did not show up even after we waited for more than an hour. So we got ourselves a cab and made our way to the headquarters which is about a 2-hour drive. Along the trip, we got back in touch with the tour agency and upon our arrival to the HQ, someone waited for us to give us the hiking passes and intro to the mountain guide. The mountain guide was also our porter. According to him, he could carry up to 30kg for both ascent and descent. It doesn’t take a genius to guess that’s a tough job! We gave him 20kg for our combined weight at about S$50. It was worth it.

The first one kilometer of the hike was the toughest for me. I could hear my heart pounding, my breath being held up and my legs shaking as I moved up each stair. I guess that’s because my body was trying to get used to the activity and the climate. Every stair seemed daunting and that’s when I began to question why I was even there in the first place! Fortunately, I got used to it after awhile. The trail is very well-maintained and the whole nature park is well-reserved by the park authorities. There are resting points with a roof, benches and a toilet.

The environment was largely rain forest for the first 3km and it changed drastically for the second half – with a unique landscape of flora and fauna that I’ve never seen before. Even small little leaves and flowers suddenly looked more intriguing.

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The Otherworldly

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Reminds me of some of the movie scenes

The weather was quite forgiving. For the first half, even though it was hot, there were lots of tree shades. At some points, we found ourselves walking in the midst of clouds! Can you imagine that? I’ve been to places higher than clouds but never been in the middle of it before.

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Feel the clouds. Feel the breeze. Feel the peace.

For the second half of the 6km journey, even though it was mostly bare land, the temperature cooled down and by the time we reached the altitude of 3000 m where our accommodation was, I even started to feel a bit cold. It drizzled a few times here and there though. Fortunately, we got our ponchos from the HQ and we just slipped ourselves into it whenever there’s rain.

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Us in ponchos and raincoats

By the time we reached to our pendant hut, we were all pretty drained. We got a room mixed with other hikers. We quickly chose our beds, put down the stuff and prepared for the compulsory via ferrata training. Shower was not available at the hostel due to dry weather and water shortage. So we made-do with our wet wipes to clean up.

The dinner was a buffet dinner and not sure if that’s because I was hungry, I thought it was quite decent. We caught a brief sunset outside the dining place and took some pictures.

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The last bit of daylight shining over the cotton clouds

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My time to shine! LOL

After we got back to our hostel from dinner, it was already about 7.30pm. I quickly packed up my stuff for the final ascent of 3km and went to bed at 8.30pm. All other people in the room settled and lights were off by 9pm. I took a pill of panadol before I slept.

Day 3

We had to get up at 2 am to begin the hike to the peak. Technically, I did not get to sleep at all because the old folk who was sleeping next to my bed was snoring all the way! Nonetheless, by the time I got up at 2, I was feeling quite alright (no headache, not much body ache and no flu). Even though I was quite worried about high altitude sickness, it did not hit me at all.

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It was mostly darkness as you can imagine so all I remember was stairs, stairs, stairs. There was like endless number of stairs for the first hour if I’m not wrong. And then we started going up the bare mountain which is like a rock surface. I had to move slowly bits by bits as I ran out of breath easily. Most other people were the same. At one point, there was a white rope to guide as the way as well as for us to pull through it to go up steeper regions.

Finally we managed to reach the top but there was still a final 200m to reach to the actual highest peak where the signboard was placed. But we took our time and watched the sunrise first before we made our final move.

Finally @ The Peak!

Finally @ The Peak! [4095.2m]

The scenery was breathtaking and heavenly. It was a divine serenity just sitting there watching over the earth. For a moment, I could not believe I made it there; with so much sweat and determination.

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I wanted to shout out to the people beneath the clouds; “catch me if you can!”

Two members of the team got extremely sick during the ascent and we just slowly made our way to go back down to the accommodation. I accompanied two of them so three of us did not go for the via ferrata activity whereas two others hurried for it as there was some cut-off time to begin the activity.

Via Ferrata route. Looks fun, doesn't it?

Via Ferrata route. Looks fun, doesn’t it?

After all of us reached to the hut, we took a short rest, packed up and prepared for our descending trip. I must say that the descent is as challenging as the ascent even though it took shorter. My knees and ankles were killing me everytime I hopped from one stair/stone to another. I even felt extreme boredom at some points having to repeat the exact same route as our ascending. There was no more anticipation and excitement but of course a great sense of accomplishment and gratification.

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It drizzled while we were still at the top and we hurried back down

If a person like me who used to lose breath easily just with a 1km jogging can make it without much difficulty, what stops you from trying this out? You never know what you can achieve if you don’t try.

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After we’ve left the mountain and back to the park headquarters. Our dear guide/porter is in the middle

Cheers.

Avoid these 3 “S”s for healthier eating habits

I have been into “eating clean” personal campaign for a couple of months now. I would not say I am on diet because I don’t have strict meal plans or goals to lose weight. But I do have a target to maintain my current weight. I realized that in order to live a healthy lifestyle, you can start adapting your behaviors gradually with some efforts. It’s definitely not rocket science. It may not be so easy at first but once you have established a good habit, it will stick with you for as long as you allow it to be there.

To eat clean, the real secret is to find healthier alternatives and not to practice complete abstinence. Most importantly, you have to enjoy what you eat. I am a natural lover of vegetables and fruits so I have no problem eating more of these. At the same time, I am a huge fan of rice and noodles which are the main loaders of carbohydrates. So I know I definitely won’t give up on them and I could only try to eat less of these.

If you actually track what you consume everyday and watch out for the calories, you will come to a realization that there are a lot of extra calories from foods and beverages that you don’t really need. So I am going to share with you the three “S”s that you probably should give a second thought before succumbing to them.

SOFT DRINKS

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You only have limited amount of calories you can take in a day. Make sure you make the right choice!

I don’t think I need to prove to you how much sugar is contained in a typical soft drink. You can google yourself.  Soft drinks are possibly the kind of drink that contributes very little to your body’s nutritional needs but brings more side effects to health. I minimize the intake of soft drinks or for this matter any other kind of sweet drinks (e.g. milk tea, bubble tea, bottled green tea, fruit juices). I choose water over everything else. Period.

I drink between 2-3 litres of water a day. It’s my ritual. I get thirsty every now and then particularly when I have to work in a fully air-conditioned environment for like 9-10 hours a day. Water helps you hydrate and detox your body. Apart from that, if  you drink water after meals, you feel full for a much longer time. I also drink a cup of green tea. Well, green tea does not sound like a sexy drink you would often sip on the pool side but if you look up its health benefits, you will be amazed by how much you can gain out of a simple drink!

Alternatively, you may also consider home-made smoothies or fresh fruit juices.

Guess how yummy they are!

SNACKS

The worst thing about snacking is that once you start, there’s no brake!

Who doesn’t love potato chips or chocolates? They are probably the hardest little devils to resist. I know you hate to admit that these snacks are the enemy to your body, but if you don’t want to regret, cut them down right now. And the best tip to avoid? Don’t even buy these in the first place. Get them out of your reach. Make sure your kitchen cabinets are stocked up with healthy snacks.

Instead of munching on your potato chips, chew on baked almonds (without salt). Almonds are a “must-have” for people who like to snack in a healthier way. They are rich in protein but beware of the high fat level too.

If you love to eat yogurt for example, replace those artificially-flavored yogurt drinks with natural or Greek yogurt which is rich in protein and low in calories. They help you with smooth digestion too.

This is the yogurt I eat a few teaspoons a day

Now the best kind of snacks, for me, would be fruits. I bring fruits to work everyday and eat them as my tea-time snack. They are my daily pleasures!

SUPPER

I read in an article that a general rule of thumb is not to eat anything 2 hours before sleep. Make it a habit. Eat less for dinner in general and avoid supper at all cost. Apart from the days that I eat out, my dinner would usually involve a mix of vegetable soup, salad, boiled egg and fruits.

To be aware of how much calories you consume a day, you could try using apps like myfitnesspal. It advises you on how much calories you can take in a day based on your personal profile.

Eating clean is all about discipline. Your willpower has to be strong enough to stick to it especially in the initial stage. Once it becomes a habit, trust me, it will be much easier. At the end of the day, it’s all about input Vs. output. If you feel you have absorbed too much calories, you can always burn these extras away with some cardio!

All the best. Stay healthy. Stay happy.

When I turn 30

Recently,one of my female colleagues who turns 31 this year bombarded me with a bunch of negativity – ugly things that will (surely) happen to me when I reach the remarkable big 3-0. I am 24 this year by the way. First, she mentioned that I would no longer look slim and I would have to give up on my current body because (according to her), that’s nature. You get fatter as you grow older. Second, she told me that when I turn 30, I would no longer feel like dressing up or doing make-up because everyday is just another day and I would stop bothering about how I look. She even said that she would give a call to me when I am 30 and see how I am doing. This is very demeaning. But anyway, I just simply replied, “Please make sure you give me a call. None of these will have happened to me then”. The talk was disappointingly pessimistic so I just left the conversation. But thanks to her, I started wondering what I would actually be like when I am 30.

1. I will ensure I am in a good physique.

It is a fact that metabolism significantly slows down starting in the mid 20s, especially when my job is mostly desk-bound. It has started to take a toll on me and I realized that I can’t take a healthy body for granted – like I used to when I was in my uni days. Fast-forwarding to my 30, I can’t say that I will look skinny or have contours on my belly. I may even gain some extra kilos, but I will still be within the range of healthy body weight that is also physically pleasing. Keeping your body in proportion does not only prevent from unnecessary health issues, but also gives you more self-confidence. This applies regardless of how old you are.

2. I will still dress up nicely and present myself well.

First impression does matter, even though it sounds superficial. I hold the mantra that “what you wear speaks part of who you are”; it’s beyond just looking pretty. I believe I will dress even better when I am 30 because as my profession gains more exposure, I should be portraying myself even more decently and professionally. My disposable income should be better off by then too, so why not.

3. I will live an active lifestyle.

My weekends will not mean “crawling in bed till noon, burying myself under a blanket and getting hooked on some movies on the laptop”. Well, I may do this occasionally. After all, everybody longs for a little personal time once in a while. Nonetheless, I’d rather go out and catch up with friends than stay at home. If my friends are too occupied, I will spend time pursuing my hobbies and learning new skills. Do some outdoor activities. May be I will start cooking too.

4. Give advice to the younger ones.

I would love to engage with the younger generation so that I can advise them based on my own life experiences. I will never say how insipid or haphazard their life is going to be when they are 30. I will instead share some life hacks and pitfalls to avoid in their younger age so that they can live a meaningful productive life in their thirties.

5. I will have attained some career success.

For many working women, early thirties should be their career peak too. It’s the time you may have accumulated about 6-8 years of working experience which is highly demanded in mid-managerial roles and sometimes even senior roles. I will ensure that I am climbing up the career ladder – not getting stuck somewhere or going back down. I have seen a couple of female co-workers in their early thirties who do not have a clear goal and who have become very comfortable in their job even though it does not offer much opportunity for them anymore.

6. Now, the tricky thing. A life partner.

Hopefully, I am already married by the age of 30 or at least engaged to someone whom I am confident to spend my life with. However, I will not get married just for the sake of getting married, peer pressure or social pressure. If being together with someone brings more harm than good, then you are better off alone. Besides, finding the right person is something you can’t really plan; it happens when it happens.

Point to note; if I am already a mother by the age of 30, some of the aforementioned points might get invalidated by default. If I have kids, I will have much less time or no time at all to indulge in my hobbies or hang out with friends. Some women may even give up on their career to give a better care for the children. It’s all about personal choices and I respect them. Nevertheless, I imagine a 30-year-old me to be a smarter, wiser and more successful woman that the younger generation can look up to and follow suit. There is no reason to be despondent and panic over your age just because the first digit of the number changes. Live life full of passion, drive and vigor. For many, 30 is the beginning of new adventures. So do not waste your youth.

“Age is the issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” – Mark Twain

The Man Who Helmed Singapore: Mr Lee Kuan Yew (1923-2015)

The people of Singapore and many others around the world mourn as the former minister mentor Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore, took his last breath yesterday morning (23 Mar 2015), at the frail age of 91.

He is an extraordinary person who knew how to transform a nation so small and scarce of resources 50 years ago into a major financial and economic powerhouse in Asia today.

I still remember the first time I came to Singapore back in 2007 – which was also my very first overseas trip. Having come from a third-world country, I was awestruck at the modern infrastructures and advanced systems here. The splendid Changi Airport which is known as one of the world’s bests, the green landscapes, wide and smooth tarred roads, blocks of apartments (known as HDBs), the port with massive loads of containers and skyscrapers in the downtown are the very first few impressions I had about Singapore. Now that I have travelled to several other countries, Singapore still stands at one of the most developed, safe, clean and systematic cities. It has also become an Asian melting pot – a place where diverse races and nationalities reside.

Mr Lee is a visionary. A steadfast leader. A wise man. An idol for his political and moral conviction. A patriot with selfless sacrifice and dedication to the nation. A one-of-a-kind legend. Most profoundly, the father of Singaporeans. I have always admired leaders around the world who are so dedicated and loyal to their nations that they live and breathe along their life purpose of “for a better nation”. This is something many of us are not able to do and I am not sure when will such a leader emerge again to write the history.

Coming this far and having helmed Singapore into such a blooming city-state did not come without criticism from its opponents and the pro-democracy westerners. Mr Lee Kuan Yew and cabinet would often be criticized for their repressive measures on political and civil rights. Media in all forms on an amalgam of topics is extensively censored. Public demonstrations are tightly controlled. Government rules are pervasive in citizens’ daily life and little patience is entertained for any dissent or opposition. All I have to say is – No government system in the whole world is perfect. Democracy likewise has its own pros and cons. It can be very inefficient at times. In my view, Mr Lee chose what is best to build a nation from ground zero: a combination of democratic practices and authoritarian rules. Compared to his excellent implementation of a meritocratic, corruption-free and efficient government system, I believe a handful of governmental control means little harm to most people. It was in fact needed to transform a nation from a third-world to the first-world within a single generation. At least, I trust that he did his best.

“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” – Aristotle

Having spent seven years in Singapore (which is almost a third of my life), I would like to express my deep respect and gratitude to Mr Lee for creating vast amount of opportunities on this red dot. I have always told my Singaporean friends how much I love this place and its diversity – all because of the hard work Mr Lee and his team had put in. I am very thrilled to admit that Singapore is now my second home – a place I would dearly miss if I had to part.

Dear Mr Lee, thank you for everything. You have raised Singapore well and made your citizens proud. Your legacy lives on.