Twenty Seventeen

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Three days into the new chapter.

This coming year, however, I dream of the day where peace and love rules the world. Bottomline, suffering should end.

It is not that bag you scrimped to buy, that unfinished work, the shoes that broke while you danced… but real people who struggles with basic sanitation, change of clothes, death, and fear, every minute. Bringing this thought to a new year reminds me of what I want in life. It might not be now, but someday, I will find a way to contribute to the society, instead of donations and empathy. The parts of the world that I have not laid my feet on; I want to see them all. If anything I could ask for, is good health for everyone around me, and to travel and learn more.

In my ideal world, the news are better off with Hollywood tabloids, than governments fighting over territories and power. It would be better counting stars, than counting death. Technology should help improve lives, minimise global warming, than putting people into debts. Fashion should just be based on style and quality, not brands nor price tags.

And I, should be happy, not unhappy. Simple as that.

Spent the last hours with Desleen (thanks for free tickets!), Jas, Jinyi, and their friends counting down at the Siloso Beach Party. Was a first; fun and memorable night, with the wigs drawing much unwanted attention (for myself at least). Like this.

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Happy New Year y’all.

Brace for impact.

Iran, the Ancient Persian Empire

As the plane landed, the ladies on the flight were all putting on their hijab – required by the (Islamic) Iran government. I practiced once or twice before the trip, just to check if I might need to walk with one hand on my head throughout the trip. A clip could do the trick; but hello, if I want to wear a hijab, I wear it with style!

Getting the visa took a while, but not enough for the hostel to charge extra waiting time for transport though, phew.

Over the course of two weeks I met so many people from everywhere. We are all very different except for one trait – to explore. Fashion designer, graphic design professors, bartender, activists, dive-master, custom officer, banker, street performer, teachers, a young dude who has a tattoo of an onion… you name it.

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The history, overwhelming.

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The nature, breath-taking.

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The architecture, incredible.

The road trip with my first CS host, Amir, took me to places I probably can never get to without his car. We also went on the route I wanted to go by train – though the train could have been a better option, I’m not complaining for what I experienced. Some days I do not see any other tourist, and he made it easy for the language barrier. I feel grateful, despite the bitter aftertaste (no pun intended).

Travelling as a solo woman (with a different skin colour) in Iran has its pros and cons. You gather a crowd in three minutes, with everyone hoping they have a solution to your problem, or you risk getting touched or harassed by oppressed male counterparts. As much as possible I kept my eyes to the ground, and smile to those who seemed genuine. Sometimes you get it wrong. I smiled to a soldier in a mosque whom I assumed was following me for my safety, or possibly hoping to help me snap some photos (as I was alone) – he requested for a photo with me, and pulled me in immediately after the shutter clicked, and tried to kiss me. He persisted for a bit after I pushed him away. Usually when you stand firm, or be in a crowded place, you are pretty safe.

Mountains after mountains, the endless folds from the tectonic plates. I came for the view on Alamut but was caught in heavy fog, but the journey was already jaw-dropping. It was an intense trip back down in the evening with no lamps on mountain roads, poorly marked roads, mediocre brake and headlights, and a badly-timed thunderstorm with snow covering the roads.

The impromptu hitch-hike was a catch. I was planning to hitch if I had found a travel partner, but I did not. After two or three hours in Kandovan, which is two hours away from Tabriz, there was no taxi operating (back to Tabriz) because someone from the village passed away and everyone went to attend the funeral. So I approached the only group I saw that late morning. They kindly offered to send me to a safe place where they arranged a taxi for me. Over chai, they told me they were all graphic designers! After a short drive, the taxi driver spoke to me and took a turn away from the highway. I questioned him but he gestured me to wait and see. He turned into a school and picked up a girl who appeared to be six years or so. We both laughed, seemingly agreeing that the paranoia was redundant.

People in Tabriz spoke Turkish, Azeri Turkish. My broken Turkish helped a bit, and I miss the people from that kebab restaurant next to my hotel that chatted with me, offered me chai, accepted my pastries, and put me in a taxi safely to the bus terminal.

Hassan and Khadijeh’s hospitality made me blushed. They showed me the will to learn, humility, and the fact that I would tear at departure after spending only two nights couchsurfing with them. In the day we made a trip to the border, 15km away from Iraq. I was not looking for excitement, or danger, but amused at the resilience of the city. I was curious.

The cars that stopped on the highway, mistaking me as a married Afghanistan woman, and helping to fix the flat tyre. One car assuring he will follow us to Shiraz, knowing the spare tyre was not in the best condition.

Persepolis celebrated 2500 years of the empire in 1971, which makes it 2545 years during my visit. The Achaemenid Empire was something I never knew nor research beforehand, and I actually spent a day or two digging into it after coming home.

The mosques were very, very impressive. Every single one. It makes me question a lot about the architecture style through the eras. The patterns, the ratio, the brains behind it, the labour that went into it, the scripts that speaks on it – it works on your senses.

The dynamism of the country took my heart away. I was getting used to wearing hijab in public places – it was actually really useful when the temperature dropped! If there is anything to whine about, it was the shortage of variety of food once you leave the big cities, and the high-quality toilet papers equivalent to our kitchen towels that might just cause abrasion on your buttocks.

In general, humanity is not dead in Iran. War is not happening in Iran. Everything on the media does not speak for the people in Iran. It is one of those places that lingers on my mind even upon reaching the comfort of my bed back home.

And here is a very nice photo a stranger took for me at the Nasir-al-mulk mosque (aka Pink Mosque) for my own pleasure, haha.

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He said.

“Don’t try to understand men. Don’t even try to understand women.”

I agree to disagree.

These couple of days, in the midst of drowning in work, a lot has been racing through my mind. The friends I have, the boys I met, the boy I haven’t seen in almost a decade, the current situation, the job… on and on.

There seems to be a lot of conversation I would like to have with someone. The urge to defend has long gone. Hate to admit but I miss the besties.

Life is not that bad – but a channel where I can be at ease don’t exist anymore. The people who understand and know my stories, the ones who knows I am vulnerable. A good laugh is all it takes to forget about assumption people made of me.

This indulgence in self-pity surges discreetly. It is mental.

Maybe it is time to make time.

In the now.

I just stepped out from my washroom a minute (or less!) ago just to pen this down.

That moment I sort of lost myself wandering within the four walls – pretty sensational.

I forgot about the visual I was working on for the past five or six hours, and indulged myself in the surrounding of my humble neighbourhood, taking a tour with my ears.

There was a lady humming to a 60s Mandarin Pop – something with a flower. A kid started getting excited speaking to someone. The engine of a car, with people stepping on metal sewage manhole, speaking at normal decibel. I couldn’t make out what was said, but living on the third storey somehow I could hear them. A motorbike screeched and raced off like a stereo. These disturbance made the birds chirps. Another car just came in to the carpark and is reversing. Then another engine of what sounded like a large vehicle.

My senses heightened so much; the walls felt like nothing.

Someone slammed a door – I guessed the person was going for a shower but I heard only water flow that fits a hand-wash better. When the tap was off, I can hear water flowing down the pipe.

My mom is still coughing, after a bad week.

A few hours ago a bird flew into our house. For the record, my cat was caught by surprise to even start chasing before the bird found its way out. It must be as surprised as us.

I love moments like this – for some strange reason it feels blissful.

Right now, even better when Donut comes over meowing, waiting for pet time.

Uncertain

Those days you wonder if speaking up is the right thing to do, or keeping mum is the right way to go. Growing up, I tend to see myself as a pretty reasonable and righteous person, and it feels like I need to say something at times because no one has the guts to.

Speaking to one lady the other night shed some light on my latest impulse – I could be wrong. I questioned myself why does things bothers me, and why should I care? It all boils down to honesty and equality. When the ideal hippie life strikes me, none of these matters that much.

The days I chose to be carefree were the days I were happy – so let it be. That is how it should be. From now on, I refuse to be dragged into or react to any of your unhappiness.

For it shall end.

The happiness of flushing toilet paper

The driver at the airport shuttle station advised me to arrive at my hostel in the late afternoon to avoid the old town’s maintenance fee. After much bantering I moved aside and got myself on roaming. Beaming with positive response (from the hostel) and my backpack, I returned to the station to find the same driver just done gobbling down his noodle, and declined driving me to my destination after downing some alcohol.

After one evening at Lijiang’s old town, it was a wise choice to get to Shangri-la the next day. Suffer first, enjoy later. Same itinerary in my mind to get myself acclimatised.

Shangri-la’s quaint old town was appealing, minus the cold. Carmen’s hotel transfer picked us up from the bus station and came to a halt underneath a couple of beautiful blossomed peach trees. It was a much smaller scale and I ventured out while Carmen decided to pay a visit to the hospital, after her fall the previous night.

Mr Zhang from Chengdu was struggling to communicate with three caucasian ladies. After translating for him, checking if the ladies had their lunch, our casual chat assured me he was a family man. Mr Zhang invited me to the hostel he was staying at to meet his wife and daughter. An overwhelming hospitality; everyone around the fireplace were curious about me and the chatters went naturally. It rained pretty heavily and I made my second wise choice to purchase a sturdy poncho at a random store on the way back.

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Carmen and myself spent the next day visiting a few places with our talkative Tibetan driver. Apparently Shangri-la used to be Tibet’s land, hence the plentiful of Tibetan residents. Horse-riding, national park, and Tibetan house visit – all done without using the pricey oxygen tank we bought.

As soon as I got back to my hostel, I was told that an Australian man was also heading to Tiger Leaping Gorge the next morning. I was all stoked! Waited around, packed what I needed into what I call “my new garbage bag.” We met and he introduced himself as Matt. We both did not know if there were any more seats left to get to Qiaotou but I still tagged along. Got a seat on a separate local van. Possibly my worse ride for the week.

Less than three minutes after alighting, Matt’s bus arrived and we both stood by the road, trying to locate Jane’s Guesthouse. One could simply leave their backpack at Jane’s for 5rmb, as many days as you wish. Jane had a bad morning after someone hit her cat’s hind leg. After checking out her injured cat we were on our way for our two-days trek.

After about 40 minutes of walking, the beginning of the trek challenged my weak ankle. Matt was very patient but at one point I decided I would actually be more of a burden than a great company. So I went for my second horse-ride, hoping it would not only be of help, but a different experience. Reunited with Matt somewhere on the road, but this time with Hongji from Harbin, and a tall Scottish dude. After what felt like slightly more than an hour, we arrived at the next guesthouse where I remembered I hadn’t had lunch. Hongji’s girlfriend and an Israeli-Spaniard joined us at the table, making us six.

At about 3pm we set off for Halfway Guesthouse, the place that motivated me. Arriving there at about 6 or 7pm with limited beds available. The group settled with four of us sharing one room, and two in a dormitory. Stunning view. Three of us had ciggie breaks with the mountain range across us. Take it all in, I told myself. No electricity for the entire evening so candles did the trick. A tad inconvenient but for someone who hadn’t had a shower for the past 2 days, an afternoon trek with sweat and rain… had to make do.

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My journey in the gorge ended with a fall, a bruised wrist and a pair of shoes that gave way after many years on the road with me.

The next two days were torturous – my flat feet hurt with my new shoes, my thigh ached each time I climbed stairs, my uncomfortable back from the fall. Managed to visit Lijiang’s Forbidden City i.e. Mu Fu and Black Dragon Pool. Both did not impress.

Our last night was in Shuhe old town. 70sgd for a deluxe room was not too bad. Best old town of the three, sans the dude who spitted and immediately invited us for dinner. Ewwwwwww. A long chat with the American-Chinese owner at the cafe where we had dinner was insightful. Things people do to pursue their passion – very inspiring.

The flight back was mediocre. The moment I touched down at Changi Airport I made my way to the washroom because the lady beside me on the flight was not very considerate having two bags stacked in between us. Enjoyed the privacy and…

The happiness of being able to flush toilet paper. 😀

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From Do to Ha

These days I make it a point to make a prayer in the Sri Lankan temple near our place, whenever I’m dressed appropriately.

Good health, just good health for all family members.

My sister delivered a healthy baby girl a week before I took off to Doha. Bethany has so much hair that I couldn’t help not being amused. After missing two years of nephew Brendan’s birthday, it’s about time to overwrite my guilt by being around more often on special occasions.

Chatted about blogs over dinner tonight, read up the past entries, and decided to jot down my Doha trip before memories fades off. I thought of Elina again. How she encouraged me and how open we were about exchanging thoughts.

Getting to Doha was exciting, even before the flight. Scavenging my wardrobe for cover-ups, formal wear, and squeezing every piece of Jesryn’s clothes, cup noodles, chicken essence and vitamins into my newly bought luggage. Couldn’t have done it without the help of Des lol.

The flight landed slightly late; made my way to the custom to see a long queue. I tried to communicate that my connecting flight was about to take off and all the custom officer told me was…

“THIS WAY PLEASE.”

Knn.

A man came to me and asked if he could go in front of me as his flight was in 30 minutes. On normal days I would budge but this time,

“I would love to but mine is in 15 minutes, sorry!”

I made it with a pair of sore legs but my luggage did not. My first ever arrival without my baggage hoohoooo! Though worried, but also fascinated that this day would come, haha. I made my way to baggage service counter after a hot chocolate and spent time admiring a cute Pinoy while waiting.

The ARC’16 event ran smoothly, with hiccups as usual. In summary it was all about running all over QNCC. Did what designers do – the TCM a.k.a. Tent Card Master – helped with F&B, registration, break-out rooms and the misc. stuff. It was also quite an experience and eye-opener to work with the people involved. And honestly looking at the amount of logistics, can’t help but respect the team’s work. All I did was a tiny bit.

Managed to convince Jesryn and Carmen to join us for our Desert Safari. From 2 pax to 4 pax we saved a whopping 80bucks or so. My expectation for the excursion was fun. But these ladies surpassed my definition of fun! All we did was laughing, laughing pretty hard, or very hard. Been a while since I laughed that much, and do stupid shit. It was also very tempting to buy a camel on the spot and make it mine. Sohan, to be exact. The thought of almost getting ran over by a jeep still sends shivers down my spine. That VROOM-VROOM noise accompanied by its headlights. No wonder the deer-caught-in-headlight saying. I froze for a bit before yelling at Des to move. For some reason I remembered we kept jumping on those fine sand hoping the jeep would see us, and luckily it did.

Not a big fan of food there. Hugeeee portion, and hard to get proper curry lol. Each time we got into a taxi we were dozing off, so we blamed it on the food. Karak was different – it’s like drinking “cay” tea… those moments, those people, those noise, those shops…

Inshallah.

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