Sunday, January 31, 2010

Flying - Hiccups

I had little problems with jetlag during my trip despite 12-hour difference in Argentina, 8-hour difference in Morocco.  Today, back home in Hong Kong, I am struggling to stay awake during the day, and now struggling to fall asleep without nightmares.  Talking about time difference, I didn't realize Paris - my city of transit - was 2 hours ahead of Morocco instead of 1, and I leisurely walked around looking for the right gate and terminal until I realized I was only 15 minutes away from flight time.

I have been writing more on my blog than before - in the past I used to tell him everything that happened to me, whether it was something stupid, silly, happy, upsetting.  Life is not the same when you are a person so eager to express and share but with no one beside you to share with.  It's like your best best friend has moved to North Pole and you can't call him/her up anytime.  I wonder how people there communicate with the outside world...

I rarely talk to people on the plane - you don't really expect to make any friendships when you fly like 11 times in 3 weeks.  When I get on the plane, the following is my list of activities:
1. Look for space in overhead compartment to put my luggage.
2. Identify nearest bathroom and exit - yes, considering I fly so much the chances of me having a plane accident is significantly higher than the average person.  Those who are aware of emergency exits and safety measures on the plane have a higher likelihood of surviving a plane accident.
3. Take off my shoes, turn off my phone.
4. Sleep - I typically fall asleep before the plane takes off, and stay asleep for at least an hour.

These trips really wore me out.  Sounds like a brat, but I really feel I have traveled enough for my lifetime - and any new destinations would be a bonus which I would really leave for a later time.  I still enjoy exploring new cities and cultures, only that I realized I have seen more of the world than the average person, and I should acknowledge such opportunities.  Now, I am just so sick of flying, I want nothing but stability for a while.

Oh, when I went through security (?) in Marrakesh airport, I was stopped by the officer who asked me how much money I had.  I was taken by surprise, and I told him "250 dirhams" (equivalent to 250 HKD).  He asked me,"What about dollars?  American dollars?"  I said,"What dollars?  I have no dollars.  I said 250 dirhams.  Why do you need to know?  You want my money?"  He repeated,"Dollars.  How much do you have!  You have Canadian passport, you must have dollars!"  At that point he was demanding for a different answer, and started searching my bags!!  He said I needed to declare if I had more than 100,000 dirhams.  More travelers (American) arrived and were standing behind me wondering what was happening and I told them.  The man was still searching my bags and giving me a hard time, so I said,"What exactly do you want?  What makes you think I have 100,000 dirhams or dollars with me?  I may hold a Canadian passport but I don't live in Canada!  I am just going home now!  Do you want me to give you money or what?"  Finally, after finding no money in my bags and with all the people watching, he let me go.  I was so pissed.  Sometimes you have to deal with this when traveling alone - and worse when you are wear glasses looking ugly.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Marrakech - Adventure (Day 3)

2:25am here and I have to pack my bags for my 3 flights tomorrow back home.  Uploading a few of many pictures from today, but since internet connection from my room is slow, I've compressed the files to the smallest possible for faster upload.  Am sure you wouldn't mind.

Began my day having breakfast at the rooftop terrace of my riad.  Was super lovely, and was accompanied by a kitty sitting under the stool staring at my pink leather shoes from Marrakech market (about HKD 100 after bargaining).

After some souvenir and major accessory-shopping, I headed to the super colorful Jardin Majorelle (botanical garden) owned by Yves Saint Laurent.  I can't wait to see the Ektar 100 roll developed - by the way the friggin camera died again today (film wouldn't advance), thank god it was the last day of my trip.

I headed back to my riad and bumped into the owner of the natural-medicine "pharmacy" across the alley.  He had asked me to go back for mint tea (a gesture of friendliness if offered by someone genuine, otherwise a gesture of "come let me scam you") before, so when his sharp eyes noticed me quickly walking past his shop, he asked me again.  So I did join him for mint tea, and enjoyed his friendly company.  He explained the uses of the different herbs, incense, coloring (well coloring was for... color), spices, stones in their traditional medicine, and told me that in Moroccan homes they would burn some type of special herbs to drive away evil spirit and bring peace (no arguments) to the family.  (I should have visited earlier before my breakup.  Anyways...)  We also talked about modern medicine and how doctors relied on technology versus traditional Moroccan doctors who diagnosed based on experience and instinct.  The owner (a fatherly figure) asked me if I was married and when I said I was single he hugged me, kissed me, and said I should be his wife or something.  I didn't know whether to feel like a little girl being mocked, or a woman being flirted with.  With these supposedly "friendly" cultures, I can never tell.  Anyways, not only did he not scam me, he gave me free perfume and crystal and all that!  The whole time we were having the hour-long chat, he spoke 70% broken English and 30% French; I spoke 90% English and 10% French.  We understood each other, that's what matters...  (Still, I cannot understand why my French is so terrible after 5 years of schooling in high school!!!)

As I was walking to the main square again, Jemaa el Fna, I got distracted by little shops again - ended up getting like 10 packs of black soap paste, 4 Moroccan body scrub mitten which looked like men's briefs (all those mittens look like that), and about HKD80 worth of 2 necklaces + 2 bracelets + 2 tassle key chains.  When I finally arrived at the square, I sat down for a pot of mint tea and a plateful of local sweet pastries - I had just a tiny bite of each pastry (because it either had peanuts in it, or some kind of bean paste, or I had no idea what was in it, or it was some other strange tasting sweets).

After my close-to-nothing lunch (just bites of those tiny pastries), I did a horse-carriage (caleche) tour of around the city walls.  There were two horses pulling my carriage - I asked the guy in French if they had names and he said not yet.  I have a habit of making up names for animals I see on the street, but I decided that the man wouldn't find it too amusing.  Anyways, the two horses kept looking to the left wherever they went, and every now and then they would rub their heads against each other - I wasn't quite sure if they were fighting or flirting but you'll see a picture of that in the slideshow.  The ride was awesome as I picked just before sunset to do the ride, and instructed the man to go against the direction of the sun because otherwise the pictures would be "trop noires"!  The sunset made the pink city walls even more vibrant in color.  In one of the pictures, which I doubt you can see clearly in slideshow, you can actually see the Atlas snow mountain as backdrop. 

I finished the ride back at the square, where I took some final pictures of the night market chaos, with the moon in view.  There's really not much to focus with the camera, as the whole square was just chaos!!  There were people everywhere, sometimes you see some weird dude in red traditional costume who doesn't really do much but let people take pictures (with a fee!) - I think they do sing in some kinda trance like form though.  Other times you see men with chained monkies walking around - it was very cruel.  Although I did witness this incident where the monkey saw a large dog and suddenly got so excited he/she did a backflip 3 feet mid-air.  My jaw dropped and I started laughing.  What I found most amusing though was large circles of men surrounding some local story teller.  Of course I had no idea what the story was about, as it was all in Arabic, but whatever it was the men were all captivated by it.  You will also see a picture of the square where there is a black "shadow" in the front - it was a local man wearing a very typical long black cloak which I found extremely amusing reminding me of Harry Potter type of witch cloaks.

Anyways, I must pack now, enjoy the pictures.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Marrakech - Strange Adventure (Day 2)

Today was more of a shopping than sight-seeing itinerary.  After listening to a deeply emotional song, I really felt like taking it easy for the day.

I started my adventure today trying to walk to the main square, Jemaa El Fna.  This is the most popular site in Marrakech.  During the day, there are street vendors selling orange juice and dried fruits, henna-painting women and fortune tellers.  Approaching sunset and evening, this square becomes filled up with outdoor food stalls (serving hot dishes), story-tellers, magicians, snake-charmers, transvestite dancers, and African street musicians.  It is a chaotic place, yet it is unique because it is as much a local Moroccan hangout as it is a tourist attraction, and it is exactly the sort of scene in Arabic tales.  Tourists are wildly fascinated by this place, but I have to admit that I felt very scared walking in the square, being Chinese + single + female + with a huge DSLR camera + one extra film camera + young-looking (to them at least).  Everything about me screams ATTENTION, while everything going on in the square is so surreal (come on, snake charmers!!) and all vendors always try to get your attention (and your money).  I walk around the city trying my best to avoid any eye contact, and ignoring anyone who try to get my attention ("konichiwa?" "speak English?"  "are you from England?"  "Japan?" "hey lady please see this"), unless they start to sound angry/ offended/ aggressive - that is when I politely say in French "non merci" (no, thank you), "pas japonaise" (not Japanese) and keep walking fast.    I didn't take too many pictures, because the whole atmostphere was so intimidating, and I really wanted to avoid attention as much as I could.  Here's a few pictures taken during the day and in early evening:

Think he was a fortune teller telling this other man's fortune... He lowered the parasol when he saw me trying to take pictures...

Dried fruit stalls selling dates, apricots, nuts, etc.  One stall owner insisted on giving me an apricot to try - I did and had very bad stomach pain from late afternoon till 10pm when I finally could eat again.

Notice the passerby dressed in the cloak?  It's a very traditional Moroccan "cloak" with a pointy hood, and it totally reminds me Harry Potter type of magician cloak. 

Jemaa El Fna during the day:

During the early evening:
Food stalls

Local men gathering around some transvestite dancing-boys (far left, the men with pony tail and colorful dresses).

In between my early afternoon and early evening visits to the square, I spent a few hours at the tourist-popular and super chic (Bali-Seminyak type of chic... think Ku De Ta but more chilled) cafe restaurant called Terrace des Epices.  I was there initially to buy some expensive necklaces at Stephanie's Jewels right below the terrace cafe, but the man who worked at the sister restaurant, Cafe des Epices, walked me to Terrace des Epices, so I decided to have a cup of espresso and a light lunch there.  It was super charming terrace cafe in the middle of some busy souks, but it was so relaxed there you could sit there for hours and think you are far away from the city.  I also stayed there for much longer than I had planned because one of the owners came over and kept me company, later joined by 2 other friends of his.  I rarely talked to complete strangers like that for hours, but they seemed to be genuinely friendly and cool.  The owner of the restaurants was a young man about my age (or perhaps even younger).  Was really lovely chilling in such a charming cafe and having a great time talking to some interesting people on various topics.  A few pictures of Terrace des Epices and views from this beautiful rooftop terrace:

 Notice the snow mountains far away in the background. Yes, Morocco is not just desert, the climate and landscape varies greatly across the country.

I also spent my day walking inside the old medina, in and out of different souks (in fact they are all mixed together, there's not really any "in" or "out" at all and I never really knew where I was) trying to haggle but not too successful - either my prices were too low and the sellers were pissed off (they refused to even negotiate and just let me leave) or the haggling process was too quick which probably meant my counter offer was not low enough.  I also learned to tell sellers that I was from China - China gave them the impression I was poorer (than if I had said Hong Kong) and I'd be in a better position to negotiate lower prices.  In fact, one show seller said,"I know you are not from Japan and do not have as much money in China.  I will give you a better price..."   Em... Sure!!

In Marrakech, there is also plenty of pharmacies selling herbal and "natural" medicines.  By natural, that includes herbs, spices as well as incense, amber and other crystal like stones used for medical reasons.  This is a culture which really believes in the magical healing power of different natural ingredients.  Many alleys are lined with pharmacies, each with jars stacked on huge shelves, containing some unknown but colorful medical ingredients.

I've also walked past stores with zebra skin hanging down the ceiling...  That really freaked me out.  I felt so sick I didn't even bother taking pictures of them.

Anyways, enjoy my pictures taken during the day:

Marrakech - Hammam (Moroccan Bathing Experience)

Hammam is Moroccan bath, typically includes the beauty ritual of:
- pouring buckets of very hot water over you from head to toe
- cleaning and moisturizing your body with black soap (looks like a brown paste in a huge bowl)
- scrubbing you down from head to toe with a very rough mitten and pumice stone
- pouring buckets of very hot water to rinse you off
- washing your hair with some herbal shampoo and conditioning it with huge amounts of herbal conditioning paste
- applying mossy green body mud all over your body
- rinsing off with more very hot water
- then you are good to dip into very cold water bath before finishing with another splash of very hot water

Sounds like torture but it was a really nice experience - like a nanny bathing you when you were a few years old, scrubbing you hard from head to toe.  My skin had never felt so clean after the ritual.  When the lady scrubbed my face hard, I wanted so bad to ask her to be gentle, but I forgot if "gentile" was the right word, so I let her do her thing - and was pleasantly surprised how my delicate skin reacted well to the scrub!

All this took place in the hammam - which was a cave-like steam room especially for bathing and such rituals.  Typically you have to be completely naked, but since I had this inside my riad, I was allowed to wear bikini bottom.  I loved the experience so much and thought modern spa was nothing compared to this.  It was a different kind of pampering experience - in a rough way perhaps.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rachael Yamagata - Horizon

A deeply emotional song.  I was taking a bath in Morocco listening to songs and came across this one.  Made my heart so sore.

The last time I lay my eyes upon you
You were blowing kisses and I was waiting in a car
Something had died, yet everything around kept turning
Don’t even know now where you are
Somewhere along the line we lost our horizon
I’ve been looking round, up and down to no avail
Someday i hope to find the horizon
I’ve been all around the world yet nothing is clear
The last time I held you it was head to heart
The curtain was drawn, I left you sleeping so sound
If I had known forever after we would stay apart
I would have whispered all the things I can’t tell you now
Somewhere along the line we lost our horizon
I’ve been looking round, up and down to no avail no avail
Someday I hope I can find the horizon
I’ve been all around the world
I don’t believe in you
Like I so wanted to
I hope you’re asking heavens above
To forgive all the damage you’ve done
And if I did teach you anything at all
I hope that you learned how to love
But I doubt if I’ll ever talk to you after now
Somewhere along the line we lost our horizon
I’ve been looking round, up and down to no avail, no avail
Someday I hope we can find the horizon
I’ve been all around the world, nothing is clear
No no no
Nothing is clear to me now at all
Nothing is clear
Nothing is clear
Nothing is clear to me now at all
Nothing is clear
Nothing is clear to me
Nothing is clear
Nothing is clear
Nothing is clear
Nothing is clear…

Marrakech - Strange Adventure (Day 1)


I decided to take it easy today, being my first day in Marrakech, to just leisure walk around and allow myself to be lost among the numerous pink-colored winding alleys. Every alley looked the same to me, and all tourists lose their direction in Marrakech.

I really had little idea where I was today, except that I went to Cafe Des Epices for lunch (but I decided to spoil myself and have honey crepes and espresso instead of a proper meal), then completely lost direction walking around souks (markets) and ended up in Ben Youssef Mosque - supposedly a beautiful mosque but having been to Cordoba to see huge ones I wasn't particularly fascinated by this small-scale one.

I carried both my DSLR and Lomo LCA+ but used LCA+ more as locals here either feel offended by tourists who take their pictures without asking or they totally welcome it - asking you for money (a lot) for taking their pictures. So I figured using a plastic camera would draw less attention.

As with all my other travel experience, I had this funny encounter today. Marrakech is Morocco's most touristy city, and it is known for a lot of scams. I've heard very funny stories, like an Austrian client of mine drove across the desert with her husband one time and there was this man who was standing in the desert with the hood of his car open. He spoke in Arabic language so my client didn't understand him (most Moroccans speak some French though), but he gave my client this piece of paper written in Arabic language, and asked her to give to someone in the direction she was going. She thought it was probably a scam so she left with her husband and continued driving. When she got to the next town, she showed this piece of paper to a local, and the local said,"ah this says that the guy's car is broken, and he has his home address written on this paper." My client felt very bad thinking that the poor guy needed help, so she went to the address written on the paper trying to tell the guy's family. Turned out, when she arrived there with her husband, it was a carpet shop - the family invited them in and tried to persuade them to buy carpet!!

So, knowing that this city is full of scam, I was very cautious. In fact, today a young man led me to the cafe because I asked for directions (supposedly Moroccans are very friendly and willing to help with directions), and asked me to give him money when we arrived. But this was not my strange encounter. My strange encounter happened when I was at the Ben Youssef Mosque and this Moroccan guy (name was "Said" - pronounced "Sigh-Yeed" just like the guy in Lost) who was one of the official (registered) tour guides in Marrakech started talking to me. He seemed pretty decent, especially when I saw that he had the exact same phone as I did (Nokia E71) only in different color. I asked him directions to go to this very nice jewelry shop (Stephanie's Jewelry, recommended by Gwneth Paltrow, which was so damn expensive, charging French prices in Morocco) - in Marrakech because the medina is made up of hundreds of winding alleys/ streets it is almost impossible to find any place just by looking at the address. He said it was close to his home and said he'd take me there, and reassured me he wouldn't scam me. Well, indeed not only did he not ask me for money, he had to pay out of pocket to use the pay phone to call the shop since his mobile phone operator was a different one or something. I offered to pay him (20 Marrakech Dirhams, equivalent to 20 HKD) for helping me, but he declined. Being an "experienced" single female traveler, I sort of knew there had to be some other reason other than kindness for helping me - here's our conversation:

Moroccan guy: So are you married?
Me: Yeah (when traveling alone, always say yes and pretend your husband is waiting for you in hotel)
Moroccan guy: Really?
Me: Yeah!
Moroccan guy: Children?
Me: No.
Moroccan guy: Can you have other relations (relationships)?
Me: Of course not!
Moroccan guy: Cannot have long or short relations?
Me: Cannot. (At this point I had to look away to giggle. I almost burst out laughing.)
Moroccan guy: Oh... too bad...

Men in all countries are all the same afterall.

Marrakech: Riad El Fenn (Paradise to Heal a Sore Heart)

I arrived at Marrakech this morning feeling like a mess, but as I stepped foot in this riad (Moroccan traditional residence typically has a huge courtyard in the center), I smiled to myself and felt that this was the exact paradise I needed to heal myself in.

Riad El Fenn is opened by Vanessa Branson (Richard Branson's sister).  It is among the most beautiful riads in Marrakech - luxurious yet romantic, traditional, and very cozy.  It is a very intimate riad, and is beautiful like paradise.  There is a strong Moroccan influence but with a slight modern chic to it.  There's beautiful trees, plants, flowers everywhere - oh there's dozens of roses in a bucket in my own room!  What makes it even more special is the number of hidden spots everywhere in this riad, with beautiful couches and cushions, colorful chairs, candles... for guests to chill quietly.  If you look at the second slideshow below, the last two pictures taken at night with some beautiful shadows of lampshade on the ceiling are taken exactly where I am now using my laptop sitting on a huge couch sipping mint tea.

I am staying in Room 1 (one of the 2 slideshows below with a pink wall and turquoise blue bathtub).  I had slept very little (3 hours) before arriving at Marrakech, and when after I stepped foot into my room, I immediately fell in love with it and took an hour long bath.

It is amazing how a room could make one feel special and beautiful!

Each room in this riad has a different theme to it.  Enjoy the slideshow.  One day, when I get married, I would love to have a very small celebration and my honeymoon in this riad.  This is how special it is.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hassan II Mosque - Dangerous Encounter

I broke down crying in Casablanca, when I learned that he would rather suffer alone than hold my hand and go through life's ups and downs together.  I cried because it pained me to know he was suffering yet he still failed to see how our relationship really didn't have to end in breakup, ever, if we stopped running away from difficulties in our separate ways.  Why can't he have more faith in himself, more faith in me, in us?
Casablanca started pouring rain as I started crying.  I went to work with my blood-shot eyes, and walked around dirty streets to supervise interviews in the freezing rain.  I wasn't quite myself today, and left the hotel without even a jacket or a scarf in the winter weather - it was about 12 degrees today.  My head was pounding, my body shivering, my heart aching.

After work, I went to the Hassan II Mosque at night - the second largest mosque in the world after the one in Mecca.  I have always been fascinated by mosques and was hoping I could somehow find peace there - even though I was not allowed in as a non-Muslim after special hours today.

I was not quite myself when a strange Moroccan man signaled me to follow him - which I did.  He then signaled me to follow him into this restricted area, where he opened a large door and the underground tunnel/ room was in complete darkness.  I cannot recall whether it was curiosity or self-abandonment that led me to follow that man into the completely dark underground passage.  Afterall, I no longer had anyone to worry about my safety in Morocco.  I used to be extra cautious during my business trips not for myself, but for Kevin who might worry sick about me.  I no longer had any reason to take good care of myself, so despite feeling a bit scared, I risked my safety.

After I entered that underground passage which led to a big space, the man went to turn on the lights. 

When I saw what a huge underground room I was in, I started to realize that I could be in great danger being with a complete stranger in the world's 2nd largest mosque's underground bathing area.  I actually was quite scared, and I knew if he wanted to harm me, he could easily do that without anyone being able to hear me scream.  But I was already there, so it was too late to turn back.  He asked me to take pictures, then led me to another room...

I followed him and then I saw the actual Hammam - Moroccan bath area.  Muslims have to scrub their bodies clean before entering the mosque to pray.  The area below was their bathing area, like a sauna house:

I had no idea where I was at the time, so I was overjoyed to see this.

Luckily, this turned out to be some tourist scam.  He asked me for money on the way out, so I gave him some and left.

I swear to God I'd never put myself in any dangerous situations like this one again.  No picture-taking opportunity is worth the danger.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Super Powers

A few years ago I remember a friend of mine, Brian Wong, told me a stupid joke about the stupidest super power - the ability to fly but ridiculously slowly.  I still laugh when I think about it.

I am now in Casablanca for work, and it is one of most boring cities in the most exciting countries in the world - if that makes sense to you.  I had dinner in an ultra cool restaurant alone, and had too much time to think (and be sad - I almost started crying during dinner when I had the world's most amazing Pastilla with duck confit and foie gras filling yet no one to share with), which led me to think about some random stuff like - my dream Super Powers.

There's two that top my list and I am very serious about wanting them.  Totally unrelated:
1. Power to make someone think positive and be brave
If you know me well enough, you'll know that I'm characterized by the desire to inspire and cheer up people who are lost, depressed, disillusioned.  I often hope I can do something to help people I care about see things in a positive way, and give them the courage to deal with issues.
I don't know much about past lives, but for some bizarre reason I have always felt that my mission in this current life was to bring hope and light to people's lives.  

2.  Natural shield against jelly fish in the sea
I'm embarrassed, but I am equally serious about this one.  I just wish I could live by the sea and swim freely without worrying about jelly fish stings.

I have also thought about the power of teletransporting myself and a loved one anywhere anytime, so that I could:
wake up in my own bed in Happy Valley,
have pastry and cappuccino in Il Pirate Cafe in Vernazza for breakfast,
swim in the South Pacific Ocean near Nadi, Fiji for an hour,
have awesome muesli pancake in Koh Lanta, Thailand by the beach,
swim some more in Koh Lanta, Thailand,
have sushi lunch (without the 2-hour queuing) in Sushi Dai near Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo,
after-lunch cappuccino in Venice,
shopping in Florence,
pina colada by White Beach in Boracay followed by Havainas shopping in Boracay,

pistachio gelato in Rome sitting outside Pantheon / Trevi Fountain,
half hour nap in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, and munch on Globo biscuits sold on the beach,
half hour stroll from Santa Margherita to Portfofino in Italy,
buying super fragrant soup from Khan Al Saboun in Dubai,
watch sunset on pontoon at South Bay, Hong Kong / in Vernazza by the pier / in Ku De Ta bar in Bali,
have an elaborate but cozy numerous-course Japanese dinner in hot spring hotel room in Hakone, Japan,
(take a break during the long dinner to watch Disney fireworks in Magic Kingdom, Disney, Florida)
dip in private hot spring (onsen) after dinner,
smoke a deadly Gudang Garam clove cigarette and drink beer in a beer joint in Rio,
followed by the world's BEST steak sandwich as midnight snack in Cervantes, Rio,
smoke chicha in Marrakech, Morocco, with a few shots of cachaca (um.. yeah, I don't know how to find cachaca in Morocco),
have a late night boat ride in Perhentian in Malaysia looking at the starry sky,
sleep in a beautiful riad in Marrakech.

And I am now sipping Moroccan mint tea in hotel room alone in Casablanca at midnight.

Paula Cahen D'Anvers - Argentina fashion brand

Didn't expect to shop in Argentina, but I fell in love with the price tag and romantic casual chic style of this Argentinian fashion brand.  It was all summer collection when I visited, but the prices for the quality and style were only about 50% of what I'd normally pay for similar stuff in Hong Kong, so I ended up getting some dresses, tops, etc each day I was in Buenos Aires.  The brand is not yet available in Hong Kong or most parts of the world, but it won't be long before it is considering how wearable the designs are.

Where did the love go?

What hurts the most about some breakups is not that the relationship didn't blossom, but that after giving everything to your loved one for years, treating that person as your closest family and trusted soulmate, spending the happiest times and experiencing the best adventures together, he/she cold-heartedly shuts you out like enemy.

Where did the love go?

Remember me?  The girl who cheered for you at your match?  Who bought you congee when you were sick?  Who cooked you Christmas dinner?  Who made you lunch packs?  Who woke up at 4am to make you horlick before your early shift?  Who drew you a comic book?  Who drew you silly pictures to make you giggle?  Who stroked your head when you were falling asleep?  Who reassured you she'd be right beside you when you were worried about losing your job?

Did I imagine all that?

Monday, January 25, 2010

My Life Ambition

On my flight to Morocco, I realized that I was going to fulfill my dream of visiting the magical country.  I asked myself:  what's next?

For the first time I stopped and thought about ambition and goals.  I had never really set any goals for myself, but for years I had dreamed of:
- Being good at my work and recognized for my contribution - done;
- Seeing the world and traveling to Morocco one day - done;
- Knowing how to swim - done;
- Falling in love - done.

Such were the only real dreams I had had for my life.  Now that I have already done all that I had wanted for myself, what should I do with my life from this point onwards?  What would make me fulfilled?  What would make me feel happy and complete?

Throughout my 20's and early 30's, I have thought of nothing but reaching my personal "goals", realizing my personal dreams.  I've never truly thought of having a family, despite how much I have always adored kids (the adorable ones) - I have always thought about how much of the world I still haven't seen, and how many adventures I haven't experienced hence it would be a long time before I would be ready for a family.  So I surprised myself this morning, when I came to the realization on a plane to Morocco that I actually HAVE seen more of the world than most people have, and HAVE been on plenty more adventures than most people have and I HAVE done enough in my career - and that I no longer yearned for more of that.   For the first time ever in my life, I could visualize myself being a wife and a mother - and feeling at peace with that role.  It didn't strike me as a scary thought anymore, nor did I feel like it was unambitious to have that ambition.  In fact, it's already been a while since I started looking with envy at happily married, gorgeous couples and their beautiful children.  I just never knew that I too would want to give unconditionally to my own family and put my own personal desires second.

After a week of traveling alone in a foreign country, and all the thought-provoking conversations with Lion the professor/driver, I came to realize a few things about myself.  I have always taken for granted the gift of traveling the world and getting to know different cultures.  It was when I talked to Lion, who had basically been to every single place in the world (including a few times to Bhutan) leading expeditions, when I realized I had pretty much seen enough as well - not that I didn't want to go to Greece and Palau and Bhutan, but I didn't need the experience to feel complete.  We both felt like it was life's special arrangement for us to meet and talk about our passion for traveling.  (He drove me to the airport and told me he was happy to have me as his passenger because the conversations made his past miserable few weeks better.  He said he sensed some sadness in me as well - and I told him my boyfriend had just left the weekend before.)  His experience with the plane crash also got me thinking about my future family, my future role as a mother.

It's strange how people do want different things in different stages of their lives.  A year ago, I was only starting to accept the idea of having my own baby.  Just a few months ago, I was still thinking about future trips to Greece and Maldives and Spain.....  It really wasn't until I had the conversations with Lion, when I gave my life aspirations a serious thought.  Isn't it interesting how we sometimes have that moment of enlightenment?  I have been thinking about Kevin a lot, and hoping he'd have his moments of enlightenment.  It's nice to suddenly feel like you've figured out a seemingly complicated matter and everything seems so much clearer.

I don't know when my new dream will come true.  It could be years, it could be never.  Regardless, it's still nice to be aware of where you are heading in life.  Even better, it's great to feel that you've accomplished "enough" for your life so far and hope to move on to greater, more selfless goals.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Argentina Pictures - Day 1/2


Argentina Pictures - La Boca


Came a bit too late...

Argentinians eat their dinners really late.  By really late, I mean really really late.

Two nights in a row, I only started eating my dinner at 10:30pm.  I didn't finish until 12:30am.  After dinner, the Argentinian coffee lasted till 2am.

I struggled to keep my eyes open during the dinner, and to stop my ultra dry contact lenses from falling off.

I was still pondering the whole "choice of emotion" advice and thought to myself:  someone's place in your heart needs to be felt and realized by you yourself instead of being told by others.  Sometimes, when a realization comes too late, it loses the value of such a realization.  I wonder what happens to Little Prince's rose after he went back to his planet for her.....
During our 1am coffee when I was barely awake, my Argentinian friend asked me about my view towards relationship.  (I thought to myself:  Wow that's very deep for 1am conversation.  Where shall I begin?)  I told him,"I feel very strongly about the importance of partnership in a relationship.  I feel that like a business partnership, both partners need to head in the same direction at the same pace.  They need to make sure they understand each other, respect each other's thoughts and openly share ideas.  It takes both partners to hold the partnership together."

Emotions versus "Economics" or Practicalities of Life

Lion is an English-speaking 50-year old driver hired to drive me to the office.  He is Argentinian but has moved from country to country since a young age because his father was a diplomat and he himself grew up to work in Spanish-speaking tourism in Asia, Europe and other regions.  He moved back to Argentina 3 years ago because of his beloved 15-year old son from his previous marriage, who almost died from pneumonia.  He has several degrees, and was a professor at International Relations in one of the city's universities.  He has a business hosting HR coaching workshops and also provides private city tour services.

Today I went to a very shady neighborhood to take pictures, and decided it would be safest to have him accompany me.  Lion gave me a lot of background history of the neighborhood, as he walked around La Boca district with me.  When we were done with the tour, he drove me back to hotel.

On our way back, we talked about traveling/ living in different countries as part of his life.  He explained that he had been back in Buenos Aires for 3 years, and sometimes he did miss the excitement and adventures of working in other countries, the money and fulfillment he felt in his overseas assignments.  He knew he had had a very adventurous life, with the opportunity to see so much of the world, and felt the need to settle down for a while.  We felt that for some people, it is like a destiny to travel from place to place, like a natural instinct yearning for the comfort of discomfort in being in strange environments.  Perhaps in our past lives we were normads...

Lion gave me a word of advice when we talked about his decision to move back to BA.  I could feel he was quite sentimental when he said to me,"In life you sometimes have to make difficult choices, and some of these choices involve choosing between your emotions and 'economics' or practicalities of life.  When my ex-wife was 3 months pregnant, I was working in Singapore.  One day, I was flying from Bhutan to India and I had a terrible plane crash.  I was the only passenger and I survived the crash.  For about 10 minutes after the crash, my life flashed before my eyes, and I felt I had lived an eventful life, I had seen the world...with no regrets.  Yet, a small voice told me that my life was not yet complete - I still needed to be a father and look after my son.  After I survived that crash, I decided to move back to BA.  When my son was born, he looked at me with his big blue eyes, and instantly I knew he was the most important thing to me in the world.  After my divorce, my son stayed with my ex-wife, and I started my traveling again.  I finally moved back again when my son had pneumonia and almost died 3 years ago.  In life, you make your choices and you live with the consequences.  Some choices are not rational, but if something/someone is important to your heart, it's worth the inconveniences and sacrifices."

I was speechless for a moment.  He didn't know anything about my life except that I traveled a lot, so his advice took me by surprise.

I thought about The Little Prince and his proud rose back on his planet - the rose he had left behind to travel to other planets, only to learn from the fox that his rose, and the time he had spent with her, were something special and important to his heart.

The conversation led me to my contemplative state the whole afternoon at work in BA.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the beef comes from a cow that's not a cow

I am in Buenos Aires (BA) this week for work.  It's been a truly horrible week for me since last Friday - I lost my loved one as well as one good talent & one poor performer on my team. 

Regardless, I tried my best to see BA the way I normally would as a visitor not coping with loss.

I quite like the city - it is not as underdeveloped as I had thought and locals are really friendly to me.  Generally I feel safe (because I have not visited the dangerous La Boca neighborhood yet - going in 1 hour), and some neighbourhoods are truly special, with a lot of character in people's homes.  I managed to get around with my super broken portugues - which most locals don't really understand - and English.  I get plenty of stares on the street, being a single Asian (attractive?! ha) female.  Men here have wandering eyes.

While most taxi drivers don't bother trying to communicate with me apart confirming that I am staying at Emperador Hotel on Libertado Avenue - yesterday a jolly old man did.  He tried to tell me random things and ask me questions like:
- I was very tall for Chinese girl
- Plenty of parks in BA - very beautiful (linda!)
- He liked Chinese food, and there was a Chinese restaurant he always went to in the neighborhood
- There were ducks in the pond we passed by.  Ducks, not swans.  (Pato!  I thought of Patinho Feio - ugly duckling)
- There were fish in the sea in. ____  - he drew a fish on a piece of paper and I said "ah peixinho!"  ("ah fishie!")  which amused him so much
- He asked if I was married and if I had any kids.  I said "sobrera" (single).

I had steak (bife de chorizo, ojo de bife) for every meal.  I was accompanied by a friend's workmate for dinner last night and I tried to understand how Argentinians thought of their meat (beef).  I had had a similar conversation with my own colleague yesterday lunch.  Both were in love with beef in Argentina, and said they would never order beef anywhere in the world, not even in Brasil - because the Brasilian beef is too "sweet"!?!  One of them even said that the cows for beef in Brasil were not the same cows in Argentina.  That those were cows but not really cows.....  That I found very amusing and didn't quite understand.

Argentinians are very friendly people, passionate in an open-minded sense but not in a fake manner.  They eat their dinners VERY LATE - often times 9ish/ 10ish.... and they go to bed late.  They love partying and having fun, and surely are good at taking things easy.  The company I was working with this time had their office in a house in a residential neighbourhood.  I had lunch with Andrea - my local colleague - some 5 blocks away from the office, still in that residential area where there was a nice al fresco restaurant facing a park.  We had champagne with our steaks and we talked about life, her relationship, my relationship, her eagerness to realize her dreams before she became 50 and single...  It was lovely.

This Saturday I am flying to Morocco for work.  It's always been a major dream of mine to visit Morocco, so I am very thrilled to be there - at least for my own 3-day break next week in Marrakech.  While I would really love to share the experience with someone very special to me, I believe I could make it like my solo Sri Lanka trip and enjoy it as a soul searching/ calming experience.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Status Messages I Wish I Could - but Would Never - Post on Facebook

Tea Yee knows that the world doesn't stop revolving just because of her - so she must not stop living either.
Tea Yee knows she can live without anyone, but she wants to share life's happiness with someone.
Tea Yee was so disappointed when her team's young talent resigned - she wanted to slap him silly and tell him,"Are you out of your mind?  Why do you guys all take life's opportunities for granted, giving up so easily!  Be a fighter!"

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Writing about relationship

It's hard to write about relationships.  When you write about the joys of dating they seem so trivial to everyone else as they are mainly comprised of silly conversations and moments which are only understood by you and your partner; when you write about the pains of dating they drag everyone down including yourself and you feel like a victim.

Someone asked me today what type of guy I wanted.  I said,"I want a man who sees a need to protect me, who realizes and enjoys the responsibilities of being a man in a relationship.  I want someone who genuinely wants to share a life together.  Who doesn't run away from problems and leave me behind - but has the courage to face them with me.  Someone who truly cares about my feelings and allows me to reciprocate."

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Rachael Yamagata - Elephants

I haven't listened to music for about 2 years now.   It's hard for me to explain why - considering it used to mean a lot to me and was a big part of my everyday life.  I suppose sometimes you reach a stage where the music you used to listen to no longer relates to your state of mind, and it doesn't have the same meaning as before anymmore.

Anyways, I am packing for a series of work trips, and decided to bring my ipod this time.  I caught my friend Dion online (whom I always consider as having superb taste in music) and asked him to recommend some songs.  He recommended the most recent album of Muse, which I loved, and Rachael Yamagata.  I checked out her music and found that it touched me like no other songs had in the past 2 years.  So here's one of my favourites:

If the elephants have past lives yet are destined to always remember
It's no wonder how they scream 
Like you and I they must have some temper

And I am dreaming of them on the plains
Dirtying up their beds
Searching for some sign of rain to cool their hot heads

And how dare that you send me that card when I'm doing all that I can do
You are forcing me to remember when all I want is to just forget you

If the tiger shall protect her young then tell me how did you slip by
All my instincts have failed me for once
I must have somehow slept the whole night

And I am dreaming of them with their kill
Tearing it all apart
Blood dripping from their lips and teeth sinking into heart

And how dare that you say you'll call 
When you know I need some peace of mind
If you have to take sides with the animals 
Won't you do it with one who is kind

And if the hawks in the trees need the dead
If you're living you don't stand a chance
For a time though you share the same bed
There are only two ends to this dance

You can flee with your wounds just in time or lie there as he feeds
Watching yourself ripped to shreds and laughing as you bleed

So for those of you falling in love 
Keep it kind
Keep it good
Keep it right
Throw yourself in the midst of danger but keep one eye open at night

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Kidults is related to the concept of Puer Aeternus. Below is an explanation from Wikipedia:
Puer Aeternus is Latin for eternal child, used in mythology to designate a child-god who is forever young; psychologically it refers to an older man whose emotional life has remained at an adolescent level, usually coupled with too great a dependence on the mother. The puer typically leads a provisional life, due to the fear of being caught in a situation from which it might not be possible to escape. He covets independence and freedom, chafes at boundaries and limits, and tends to find any restriction intolerable.
In simple English, kidults are those who resist the idea of being an adult, and its associated responsibilities.  Urban Dictionary actually has a good definition of kidults:
A so-called grown-up who doesn't want to grow up (or at least act like an adult) and would instead prefer so-called "children's" stuff for entertainment, like cartoons, toys, comic books, Disney movies, etc. He or she also enjoys colorful "kiddie" snacks like breakfast cereal and Spaghetti-O's and dresses like a teenager or perhaps younger. May or may not be great parents as well as being able to take on adult responsibilities. Not necessarily too immature at least in the public.
A few years ago, I first came across this term, kidults, at work when a client wanted to look for kidults and "otaku" (a Japanese term referring to those who are obsessed with video games, manga, anime and other toys) for a study.  Since then, I have often been bewildered by how widespread this phenomenon was nowadays.  Grown men no longer want to be men, they think of themselves as boys, and want to remain boys forever.  Think Peter Pan.....

At work, I often come across men in their 20's or even early 30's who have absolutely no idea where they see themselves in a few years' time.  Just recently I interviewed this "man" (boy?) who could not assure me that he wanted the challenge in the job opportunity we were discussing.  So I, being the interviewer, had to counsel the boy saying,"I want you to go home tonight and ask yourself what you want to be a few years from now.  Visualize what you will be wearing, what you will be doing at work, how much you will be making.  Do that, then think about what you need to start doing now to help you get there.  Ask yourself if this opportunity in my team can help you get there.  It's fine if you can't answer me now.  Think about it at home and tell me tomorrow."  He smiled at me innocently, nodded, and told me he would think about it.  The day after, he wrote me an email, thanking me for the insightful conversation which led him to think about his future (possibly for the first time in his life).  I had had similar conversations with 2 other male candidates months ago, asking them what type of lifestyle they wanted to have in their 30's if they were still going out with their current girlfriends.  I am the youngest in my family, and have absolutely no idea why I need to assume the role of an elder sister at work.

Today I interviewed a "man" who was the same age as me, but less senior in title.  When we asked him whether he had any other concerns, he said,"well actually there is one thing - will I need to wear a suit to work everyday?"  I told my senior boss on MSN afterwards, and I couldn't help but say,"where have all men gone?  What's wrong with this world?  Men don't want to be men anymore, they want to be boys!"  My boss "LOL-ed".

Even in my personal life, I have come across a number of male friends who were already in their 30's, but were absolutely resistant to adult responsibilities.  They typically:
1. didn't think about the future
2. wanted a relatively simple/ stress-free work life
3. had no intention of starting a family
4. felt no responsibility as a man to look after his girlfriend/ future wife or bring money home
5. were huge supporters of gender equality, believed that women should contribute equally financially, and would fight with women over matters of little significance
6. were selfish and hesitant to sacrifice
7. did not think long term, but immediate gratification

It puzzles me how women evolve to take on bigger responsibilities, juggling with so many roles, while some men resist growing up.  Where have all the men gone?  What happened to wanting to support a family?  Protecting and bringing happiness to your other half?  Being the emotional support?  Not letting your other half down?  Building a home for your OWN family?

It is quite scary how a lot of men these days have such weak sense of male responsibility.  I found a lot of online journal articles on kidults, most attributing the phenomenon to protected childhood environment, financially secure parents, lack of financial responsibility to support parents/ siblings, and lack of parental expectations/ pressure.  I wonder if those parents would have changed the way they raised their kids if they had known that being "hands off" parents would eventually limit their kids' survival skills as an adult.

I wonder what will be the turning point/ reality check for these kidults to realize they can't be Peter Pan forever and there's a huge sense of achievement acting like a man.  "Elder sister" figures like me who lecture them about life?  Being dumped by numerous girlfriends?  I have no idea.  I'm really eager to find out.


Was talking to an old friend of mine, Soonyen, on MSN about relationship and love, and he talked about "connection".  I asked,"what does it mean 'connection'?"  He explained that when you talk to someone only about superficial things, but nothing deeper than that, you've lost the connection, the love.

It was quite a surprise hearing that from him, as he never occurred to me as someone who was that in touch with his thoughts and feelings.  (No offence!)  Indeed, I believe that "connection" is what keeps a relationship going - not discussions about what to eat for dinner, who to pick up the laundry, what happened at work... which are inevitable everyday conversation topics but not really what keep two people in touch with each other's mind and soul.

Thinking about 500 Days of Summer, I find it a very real depiction of modern day relationships.  Two people enter a relationship because of some interesting/ inspiring conversations...feeling that "connection".  They think to themselves:  Wow, he's cool/ she's cool!  Then they start to disagree on things, but not agreeing to disagree.  Then, they stop talking about anything that matters to them.  When the poor boy in the movie tried to ask the girl about their relationship (or thelackof), she simply shut down.  No connection.  Breakup.

Does someone really cease to be cool all of a sudden?  Or do we take that "coolness" for granted?  If there was such a connection before, why did we shut it down?